News National Woolworths ‘spying’ on punters to boost profits, MP claims

Woolworths ‘spying’ on punters to boost profits, MP claims

Woolworths poker machine
Woolworth's pokies are contributing to the bottom line. Photo: ABC
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The poker machine and pub arm of supermarket giant Woolworths has been spying on its punters in an effort to boost profits, federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie says.

The outspoken critic of Australia’s gambling industry will today make a speech in Parliament attacking the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH), citing evidence from whistleblowers who work in the hundreds of poker machine venues belonging to the business.

Chief among the allegations is that venues keep databases of customers – which are shared among the network – that detail people’s gambling and drinking habits.

“Woolworths spies on its poker machine customers without their knowledge, keeps a secret database of personal information, and uses that information to encourage increased gambling,” Mr Wilkie will say in Parliament.

“This practice undoubtedly increases revenue, but it’s also immoral, possibly illegal, and directly fosters increased gambling addiction.

“I know this because of two brave whistleblowers who’ve previously worked for Woolworths.”

ALH said until it saw the substance of Mr Wilkie’s claims it “would be inappropriate to comment”.

Staff recording ‘ins and outs’ of people’s lives

The whistleblowers, who were interviewed by Mr Wilkie’s staff, said they felt uneasy about what they were required to do and it was unethical.

“You know the ins and outs of their life. You’re writing down what they do … the teams they barrack for,” one whistleblower told the staff.

“It used to be an unwritten thing, you’d talk to patrons in a genuine sense, but now those genuine interactions aren’t what they used to be.

We’re actually writing it down so that we can get people to stay for as long as possible, to put as much money into the machines as possible.”

It is not the first time Mr Wilkie has attacked the gambling sector in Parliament.

Last year he tabled evidence from three former Crown Casino workers alleging the casino tampered with pokies and flouted anti-money laundering laws.

Those claims prompted an inquiry from Victoria’s gambling regulatory, which is still underway.

Crown Casino emphatically rejected all the allegations and took out newspaper ads rejecting the claims.

Mr Wilkie’s claims come just days before the Tasmanian election, where the removal of poker machines from pubs and clubs has been a major issue.

He said he would consider looking at new laws to stop the practice, and has called on ALH to destroy the information held about customers.