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May 19, 2021

Ballina MP calls on Woolworths to ditch its pokies at West Ballina pub

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Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith wants Woolworths to phase out poker machines at its Westower Tavern venue in West Ballina following allegations that staff at Woolworths-owned hotels have been spying on patrons in order to boost profits.

Federal Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said last week that whistleblowers had revealed that Woolworths’ hotels kept databases of customers who gamble, including their habits and behaviours.

In the Northern Rivers region, Woolworths owns the Westower Tavern, which has 30 gaming machines that earn an estimated annual profit of $1,812,832, and the South Tweed Tavern, which has 25 machines that earn $1,901,927 annual profit.

Ms Smith said Woolworths’ drive for profits in its hotel business created an incentive for ‘predatory and unacceptable’ behaviour.

‘Continuing to operate poker machines in this context is inconsistent with Woolworths’ position as a major Australian company that many Mum and Dad investors have shares in,’ Ms Smith said.

Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith. Photo Tree Faerie.

‘A secret database used to exploit vulnerable people and boost gambling profits is totally unacceptable. Woolworths is a company that trades on a family-friendly image but this behaviour targets the most vulnerable people in our community.

‘We know pokies can be a major factor in relationship and family breakdown, financial hardship and suicide.

She said Federal and state gambling authorities were now investigating the allegations.

‘The investigation will tell us if the company has broken the law, but there’s no doubt this behaviour is immoral and breaks the community’s trust.

‘The Greens are calling on Woolworths to do the right thing and get out of the pokies business.’

‘I recently met with Reverend Tim Costello, patron of World Vision Australia to recognise the Beach Hotel Byron Bay as the first hotel in NSW to remove gaming machines because of the social harm gambling causes so many families; so it can be done,’ Ms Smith said.

Meanwhile, the Greens have released the Putting An End To Pokies plan.

Under the plan, the Greens will make machine owners pay, by introducing a Commonwealth levy on pokie machines at a fixed price per machine.

The Greens will …

  • Fill the state revenue shortfall, by using those levies for a Commonwealth compensation fund, paid out annually to states once they agree to phase out pokies
  • Freeze the pokies, by ensuring State Governments may only access the compensation fund once they commit to freezing pokies licenses
  • Put an end to pokies, by ensuring State Governments may only access the compensation fund as they phase out pokie machine licenses

In an effort to understand the extent of poker machine use in the Northern Rivers, Echonetdaily has examined the annual report of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, which is published as an inclusion in the annual report of the NSW Department of Justice.

According to those figures, while the Westower Tavern in Ms Smith’s electorate rakes in $1,812,832 each year, the total pokies take by pubs and clubs in Ballina Shire is $25,248, 313. Clubs account for 424 poker machines and pubs have 165 machines.

In Lismore, the clubs have 302 machines and the pubs have 157 machines, which combined have a net profit of $17,252,252.

Byron Shire, according to the report, had 271 machines in clubs, and 158 in hotels. They have a combined net profit of $12,728 126.

Richmond Valley Council area has 266 machines in clubs, and 94 in hotels, and they rake in $13,020, 825.

But Tweed Shire Council is the standout for poker machine profits, with 1,847 machines in clubs, and 209 machines in pubs. They have a combined net profit of $97,146,107.





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