Staff at Woolworths-owned pokies venues spied on punters and offered free drinks to “high-value” customers to encourage them to gamble more, an inquiry has found.
In February, anti-pokies campaigner and federal MP Andrew Wilkie told parliament of allegations that staff at Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which is owned by the supermarket giant, were spying on customers to help maximise revenue.
One whistleblower said staff were recording details of people’s personal lives and betting behaviour.
“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,” one said.
Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns said on Monday practices identified at some hotels in Queensland, South Australia and NSW were “at odds with the priorities and values of our customers and the communities where we operate”.
“The ALH Group has already put in place immediate measures to address the findings of this investigation and to further boost the commitment to responsible gaming,” Mr Cairns told the ABC.
“The Woolworths Group will continue to support the ALH Group on this journey.”
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.
A statement on the investigation from ALH Group – Woolworths’ 75 per cent-owned joint-venture that houses its hotels business – said investigators found that employees in some Queensland pubs had recorded “descriptive information about gaming customers” for about six months from June 2017.
ALH said the practice was below the company’s expectations and contrary to its policies.
Similar practices were found in some South Australian and NSW pubs.
Investigators also found some Queensland pub staff gave additional free drinks and extra attention to “high-value customers to encourage further gaming activity”.
The company said the practices have been stopped. ALH has also briefed state gaming regulators on the results of the investigation.
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.
“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.”
Among its responses to the investigation, ALH says it will ban service of free alcoholic drinks in gaming rooms. It also said disciplinary action would be taken where poor management had been identified, and customer privacy and staff training would be boosted.