Two Woolworths owned pokies operators fined for liquor breaches

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
Woolworths aims to go renewable as pressure mounts to exit pokies venues 

Woolworths-owned ALH Group, Australia’s third largest pokies operator, has been ordered to pay more than $172,000 after two of its hotels in New South Wales were found to have systematically supplied pokies players with free alcohol.

Yahoo Finance reports the New South Wales Department of Customer Service has revealed that Westower Tavern in Ballina and South Tweed Tavern were ‘shouting’ gamblers drinks in order to encourage more playing.

“A system whereby gamblers were given free liquor ‘shouts’ was captured in daily reporting targets and tied to gaming profits and staff performance,” executive director of investigations and enforcement at Liquor and Gambling Authority New South Wales Valerie 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.”

Under New South Wales gaming laws, it is illegal to offer or supply free or discounted alcohol to induce gambling.

As a result, both venues were fined a total of $3,500 and an ALH manager was banned from the New South Wales industry for five years.

ALH was formally reprimanded and the hotels banned from operating their poker machines for two weeks.

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

The Liquor and Gambling Authority chair, Philip Crawford, said the management at ALH were “fully aware” of what was happening at the venues.

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

“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.”

An ALH spokesperson said the company was currently reviewing the Liquor and Gambling Authority’s final decision.

“We take our obligations for the Responsible Service of Gaming and Alcohol in all our venues extremely seriously,” the spokesperson said.

“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.”

Woolworths pushes back hotels and drinks demerger

Billionaire hotelier Bruce Mathieson has backed Woolworths’ decision to push its $10 billion hotels and drinks demerger back to next year, as pubs and clubs are forced into hibernation by the federal government.

Mr Mathieson, who holds 14.6 per cent of Woolworths’ Endeavour Group worth some $1.4 billion, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald in March that he thought the decision was “common sense” and that he was “more than happy” to hold off.

“We both thought it was silly to do it this year. We’re in no rush, so there’s no problem,” he said.

The much-anticipated demerger was set to create Australia’s largest drinks and hospitality business, consisting of nearly 1000 BWS and Dan Murphy’s bottle shop sites and pubs businesses.

However, Woolworths confirmed on Tuesday that the planned spin-off had been iced until next year, with chief executive Brad Banducci leaving the door open for ditching the demerger altogether.

“That’s a fair question to come back to at the end of the year,” Mr Banducci told media on Tuesday when asked about axing the spin-off.

Earlier this year, the retailer finalised the first two stages of Endeavour’s demerger, which involved simplifying the business’ structure and formalising the close working arrangements between Woolworths and BWS in contracts.

Woolworths’ drinks businesses and its 75 per cent stake in ALH were recently rolled into the new Endeavour entity, which sits inside the broader Woolworths Group.

In February, Mr Mathieson’s 25 per cent stake in ALH was swapped for a 14.6 per cent stake in Endeavour.

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