Woolworths admits its hotel staff encouraged pokie players to gamble more

Woolworths has confirmed staff at some of 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”.

Woolworths has confirmed staff at some of its hotels were profiling poker machine players and targeting gamblers with free drinks to encourage more betting. File pic. Source: Getty Images

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 now been stopped.

Protestors from Get Up hold signs against Woolworths’ growing pokies portfolio outside the supermarket’s AGM in Sydney in 2015. Source: AAP

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.