Woolworths, the Australian gambling house, has fessed up to some questionable activities. An investigation revealed that employees at several poker machine venues operated by the company’s Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH) subsidiary were routinely spying on customers and, on a number of occasions, even offered “high-value” customers extra free drinks in order to keep them at the machines. In recognizing that the activities took place, Woolworths has said that it has fired “a number of staff” at more than 22 venues, including 20 Queensland hotels.
The investigation first came to light in February when gambling opponent and Parliament member Andrew Wilkie publicized allegations that Woolworths employees were spying on customers in an effort to maximize profits. He quoted one whistleblower, who claimed that the employees were following many customers to learn the “ins and outs” of their lives.
Another whistleblower confirmed the activity, stating, “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.”
When Wilkie brought the subject to the forefront, Woolworths said that it would investigate. It has now come back and admitted that a “customer service program” ran for six months in 2017 out of some facilities in Queensland, as well as in pubs in South Australia and New South Wales. The program “gave rise to instances of ALH employees recording descriptive information about gaming customers in a manner that was below ALH’s expectations and contrary to its policies.”
The internal investigation conducted by Woolworths was led by ALH’s chairman and former Woolworths CEO Roger Corbett. It also involved the law firm Minter Ellison, as well as the EY professional services firm. They found that there were “increased provision of complimentary drinks” and additional customer service perks for “high-value customers.”
Gordon Cairns, chairman of Woolworths, said that the company takes social and community responsibilities seriously. He explained that the “customer service program” was limited in scope, saying, “The practices outlined in the investigation, at a limited number of hotels, are 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. The Woolworths Group will continue to support the ALH Group on this journey.”
Wilkie wasn’t impressed with the response. He is calling for regulatory action and said, “I call on the poker machine regulators across the country to get off your arse and to start regulating the industry. It’s not the job of a crossbencher and brave whistleblowers to be doing your job.”