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12 July 2020

Woolies penalised for plying pokie gamblers with alcohol

Issued by Liquor & Gaming NSW

Woolies penalised for plying pokie gamblers with alcohol

Woolworths-owned ALH has been ordered to pay more than $172,000 after two of its hotels on the NSW North Coast were banned from operating their pokies for two weeks for illegally providing free alcohol to gamblers.

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

Liquor & Gaming NSW 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.

Under NSW gaming laws, it is illegal to offer or supply free or discounted alcohol to induce gambling and despite allegations of this conduct at ALH venues across three states, Liquor & Gaming is the only regulator to take action.

As part of the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority’s 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.

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,” Ms 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.

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

In 2018, Liquor & Gaming submitted a complaint to the Authority specifying grounds for compliance action.

Hotel licensees Mr Andrew Wyeth, Ms Rachel Watts and ALH were found to have contravened the Gaming Machines Regulation 2010, including that Mr Wyeth and Ms 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 Mr 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 will see each venue forego significant amounts of profit.

ALH was also ordered to pay $172,692 in costs.

The Authority’s Chair Philip Crawford said 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,” Mr Crawford said.

“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.”

The full decision is available here, and a summary of findings is attached.

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