Woolworths’ hotel business fined over ‘shout system’

Woolworths’ hotel business has been hit with a $172,692 fine after two of its venues were found to have been illegally providing free alcohol to gamblers.

The two Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH) venues, Westower Tavern in Ballina and South Tweed Tavern, were banned from operating pokies for two weeks after the discovery by Liquor & Gaming NSW.

Licensees of the two North Coast venues were fined a total of $3500, and an ALH manager was banned from the industry in NSW for five years.

The regulatory body inspected over 50 ALH venues across NSW and formally investigated four.

Executive director of Investigations and Enforcement for Liquor & Gaming, Valerie Griswold, said both venues had implemented tactics specifically designed to encourage gambling.

“A system whereby gamblers were given free liquor ‘shouts’ was captured in daily reporting targets and tied to gaming profits and staff performance,” Griswold said.

“Staff were encouraged to seek out regular and high bidding gamblers for free drinks – a process that was documented and managed through reports and staff emails.”

ALH group is 75 per cent owned by Woolworths, and runs over 300 licensed venues in Australia.

In August 2018, Woolworths admitted 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.

Woolworths announced in March that it was postponing the demerger of its liquor and hotels businesses after the government ordered licensed venues to close to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Philip Crawford, chair of Liquor & Gaming NSW, said that Woolworths should be operating to a higher standard.

“An operator owned by one of Australia’s biggest and most recognisable companies should run its businesses to the highest legal and ethical standards and be mindful of its capacity to cause harm to vulnerable people,” he said.

An ALH spokesperson said in a statement that ALH is currently reviewing the final decision.

“When this issue was first raised in 2017, ALH commissioned a full review of our responsible gambling programs and operations across all venues. As a result of that review, we took a number of significant steps to enhance our responsible gaming practices, improve training for our venue leadership teams and preclude the service of complimentary alcohol in gaming rooms. ILGA has acknowledged the work undertaken by ALH within its findings,” the spokesperson said.

“What we’re focused on at ALH is holding ourselves to the highest standards. We take our obligations for the Responsible Service of Gaming and the Responsible Service of Alcohol in all our venues extremely seriously.”

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