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Woolies whistleblowers speak up on pokies issue

poker machinesThey called her Queen Bee. She was depressed, she wasn’t working and she was losing at least two grand every night on the poker machines.

AAP said staff plied her with free drinks, free food and would change the music for her at a whim. And as two whistleblowers allege, it was Woolworths company policy to keep her there.

“When she comes in – day or night or whatever – just treat her like Queen Bee,” one whistleblower said they were told in staff meetings. “They kept her there.”

AAP reported the two whistleblowers approached federal Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie who shared recorded interviews in which the pair describe the targeting of gamblers. They are the latest to shed light on allegations of improper profit-maximising conduct by Woolworths in its poker machine venues owned by subsidiary Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH). Two further whistleblowers have come forward with details of the lengths Woolworths was willing to go to in order to maximise pokies revenue.

In February, independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie revealed allegations Woolworths was keeping a secret database of customers in their poker machine venues, spying on patrons without their knowledge.

“This is just the tip of a very large iceberg,” Wilkie said on Tuesday. “Not only do (the two whistleblowers) reveal that the secret database is widespread, but they speak in great detail about the lengths to which venue staff are forced to go in order to keep people gambling.”

“We basically had a staff meeting straight out saying … ‘When she comes in, day or night or whatever, just treat her like Queen Bee.’ Like she will get this, that, free drinks, free food. They kept her there. If the music was not to her liking, in the gaming room, bang bang bang. We would go there and change the music back to hers,” one of the woman told a staff member of the anti-pokies campaigner and Wilkie in video-recorded interviews, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“Anything she said, complained about, or wanted, she got. It was always to her liking, always. And even if she was wrong, she was right. I felt a bit guilty doing it to be honest, but that’s part of the job when you are working in ALH,” one of the women said.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported a spokesman for ALH said via a statement that the company was committed to the responsible service of gambling. ALH owns 400 pubs around the country and is 75 per cent owned by Woolworths. Its operations account for about 10 per cent of the grocery giant’s overall profits.

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