Woolworths has confirmed staff at some of its its hotels were profiling poker machine players and targeting gamblers with free drinks to encourage more betting.
The supermarket giant has announced findings of an investigation into allegations, raised in February by federal MP Andrew Wilkie, that some gamblers at Woolworths-owned pubs had detailed profiles compiled about their personal lives and betting behaviour in order to keep them on poker machines longer.
Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns said on Monday practices identified at some hotels in Queensland, South Australia and NSW “are at odds with the priorities and values of our customers and the communities where we operate”.
A statement on the investigation from ALH Group – Woolworths’ 75 per cent-owned joint-venture that houses its hotels business – said investigators found that over about six months from June, 2017, employees in some Queensland pubs were “recording descriptive information about gaming customers”.
ALH said the practice was below the company’s expectations and contrary to its policies.
Similar practices were found in some South Australian and New South Wales pubs.
Investigators also found some Queensland pub staff gave additional free drinks and extra attention to “high-value customers to encourage further gaming activity”.
Among its responses to the investigation, ALH says it will ban service of free alcoholic drinks in gaming rooms.
Former Woolworths CEO and current ALH chairman Roger Corbett oversaw the investigation, which was launched after Mr Wilkie told federal parliament in February about the alleged practices.
“This isn’t just basic information,” Mr Wilkie told parliament at the time, detailing information revealed by whistleblowers in the industry.
“We’re talking things like jobs, times people come in, favourite drinks, favourite football teams, whether they have a partner and what their preferred bet level is.”
On Monday Mr Wilkie said he was disappointed Woolworths was involved in “such scandalous behaviour” but heartened by Mr 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 Mr 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 Woolworths operating machines in about 330 venues – making it Australia’s biggest pokies group – and Coles operating machines in 89 hotels.