Woolworths has confirmed that some of its hotel staff were recording detailed profiles about the personal lives and betting behaviours of gamblers at their venues to encourage them to stay on poker machines for longer.
The supermarket giant has announced findings of an investigation into allegations raised in February by federal MP Andrew Wilkie. Former Woolworths CEO and current ALH chairman Roger Corbett oversaw the investigation.
ALH Group, the 75 per cent Woolworths-owned business, said in a statement that employees in some Queensland pubs were “recording descriptive information about gaming customers” over about a six month period from June 2017. Similar practices were found in some South Australian and New South Wales pubs.
ALH, which operates 323 licensed venues and over 537 retail liquor outlets across Australia, said the practice was below the company’s expectations and contrary to its policies.
Investigators found that some Queensland pub staff also gave additional free drinks and extra attention to “high-value customers to encourage further gaming activity”.
ALH says it will ban service of free alcoholic drinks in gaming rooms as a result of the findings.
Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns said that the practices identified “are at odds with the priorities and values of our customers and the communities where we operate”.
Andrew Wilkie said he was disappointed Woolworths was involved in “such scandalous behaviour” but heartened by Cairns’s responsiveness to the allegations.
“Mr Cairns seems to be intent on doing the right thing and the remedial measures he’s overseeing will go some way to reducing the harm caused by poker machines,” he said.
However Wilkie said the poker machine industry had to enforce better harm-minimisation measures, in particular $1 maximum bets and mandatory pre-commitment.
“Woolworths and Coles should really be setting the lead nationally in this regard, or divesting themselves of pokies altogether,” he said.
The two supermarket giants are major owners of poker machines through their hotel businesses with Coles operating machines in 89 hotels and Woolworths operating about 330 making it Australia’s biggest pokies group.