Australian MP Andrew Wilkie has gone public with fresh insider allegations of “predatory” behavior by one of the nation’s major video poker (pokies) machine operators.
On Tuesday, Wilkie (pictured) announced he’d obtained compromising info on retail giant Woolworths, which operates around 12,500 pokies through the hundreds of pubs and clubs run by its Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALHG) subsidiary.
Wilkie spoke with two staffers from ALHG pubs who claim they were required to interact with big-spending gamblers in order to glean information on personal habits and interests. The info would be kept on file and shared with staff not just at that venue but across all ALHG properties.
One of these unidentified whistleblowers told Fairfax Media that the idea was to engage these VIP customers in familiar conversation to keep them “gambling for as long as possible.” The whistleblower described the data collection as “profiling” while the customers “think you are having a general chit-chat with them.”
While the idea that a hospitality venue would pay greater attention to its high-value customers seems pretty natural, a more serious allegation involves the pubs doling out free alcohol to keep gamblers at their machines, or as one pub’s staff briefing sheet put it: “smashing out the drinks to keep everyone in the room.”
The same sheet includes the instruction that, in order to meet the pub’s weekly target, “we need to be out on the floor really pushing drinks – it’s tax time so people will have more money to spend … do whatever you have to do to keep people in the room.”
An ALHG spokesperson told Fairfax that the company had launched an investigation into the allegations, while saying that the company took its “responsibilities in providing responsible service of gaming and alcohol seriously.”
Wilkie plans to offer further excoriation of Woolworths when parliament opens on Wednesday. Wilkie will reportedly say the whistleblowers’ claims showed “a complete lack of corporate responsibility” by Woolworths, and that “no company has the right to engage in behavior designed to increase addiction.”
Last October, Wilkie targeted casino operator Crown Resorts for allegedly tampering with pokies to get around betting limits and to enable prohibited autoplay. Crown denied the allegations and dared Wilkie to make his accusations outside parliament, where he wouldn’t be protected by parliamentary privilege.
The government ultimately blocked Wilkie from making further allegations against Crown, saying parliamentary privilege wasn’t a cover for spreading “slanderous or defamatory” material.