Woolworths’ ALH penalised for ‘plying pokie gamblers with alcohol’

Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, the hospitality and entertainment arm of Australian retail giant Woolworths, has been penalised by New South Wales regulators for “plying pokie gamblers with alcohol”.

Issued by the New South Wales Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority, ALH has been ordered to pay more than $172,000 after two of its hotels on the region’s north coast were banned from operating the electronic gaming machines for two weeks for illegally providing free alcohol to gamblers.

With more than 300 licensed venues, Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group is 75 per cent owned by Woolworths and is the third biggest poker machine operator in Australia.

ILGA inspected more than 50 ALH venues across NSW and formally investigated four, finding that Westower Tavern in Ballina and South Tweed Tavern had systemically supplied gaming patrons with free alcohol.

As part of the penalty, licensees of the two north coast venues were fined a total of $3,500 while an ALH manager was banned from the industry in NSW for five years. Under NSW gaming laws, it is illegal to offer or supply free or discounted alcohol to induce gambling.

Valerie Griswold, executive director of investigations and enforcement for liquor and gaming, said that 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.

“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.

“This practice illegally used alcohol to boost gambling and what it does, essentially, is reduce a person’s control of their gambling.”

Hotel licensees Andrew Wyeth, Rachel Watts and ALH were found to have contravened the Gaming Machines Regulation 2010, including that Wyeth and Watts engaged in conduct that had encouraged, or is likely to encourage, the misuse and abuse of gambling activities.

The Authority also found ALH manager Morgan Bensley was not a fit and proper person to be a close associate of the hoteliers and banned him from the industry in NSW for five years.

ALH was formally reprimanded and the hotels banned from operating their poker machines for two weeks, a penalty that it is said will see each venue forego significant amounts of profit. ALH was also ordered to pay $172,692 in costs.

Philip Crawford, the Authority’s chair, asserted that the fine reflects the seriousness of establishing an administrative system to incentivise gambling: “ALH management was fully aware of what was happening in their venues due to the formal process in place to maintain the shout system.

“This system, instead of identifying at risk gamblers with a view to helping combat their problem, targeted them to further encourage their gambling.

“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.”

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