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Byron Shire
September 25, 2021

Pokie venues punished for unethical practices

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Kickin’ The Punt founder Ben Hamilton outside one of the places where he used to gamble, and drink, Westower Tavern in West Ballina. Photo David Lowe.

Woolworths-owned Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH), the third biggest poker machine operator in Australia, has been ordered to pay $172,000 after they were found to be illegally providing free alcohol to gamblers.

Two of its hotels on the Northern Rivers were banned from operating their pokies for two weeks.

After inspecting more than 50 ALH venues across NSW, Liquor and Gaming NSW has named Westower Tavern in Ballina and South Tweed Tavern as the offenders.

Under NSW gaming laws, it’s illegal to offer or supply free or discounted alcohol to induce gambling. There have been allegations that ALH has been doing this across three states, but Liquor and Gaming NSW is the first regulator to take action.

Fines and bans

Licensees of the two North Coast venues were fined a total of $3,500 while an ALH manager was banned from the industry in NSW for five years.

Executive Director of Investigations and Enforcement for Liquor & Gaming, Valerie Griswold, said both venues had implemented tactics specifically designed to encourage gambling.

‘A system whereby gamblers were given free liquor “shouts” was captured in daily reporting targets and tied to gaming profits and staff performance,’ Ms Griswold said.

‘Staff were encouraged to seek out regular and high bidding gamblers for free drinks – a process that was documented and managed through reports and staff emails. This practice illegally used alcohol to boost gambling and what it does, essentially, is reduce a person’s control of their gambling.’

Hotel licensees Mr Andrew Wyeth, Ms Rachel Watts and ALH were found to have contravened the Gaming Machines Regulation 2010. The Authority also found ALH manager Mr Morgan Bensley was not a fit and proper person to be a close associate of the hoteliers and banned him from the industry in NSW for five years.

The ALH hotels have been banned from operating their poker machines for two weeks, a penalty that will see each venue forego significant amounts of profit. ALH was also ordered to pay $172,692 in costs.

Poker machine. Supplied.

ALH management aware of behaviour

The Authority’s Chair Philip Crawford said the fine reflects the seriousness of establishing an administrative system to incentivise gambling.

‘ALH management was fully aware of what was happening in their venues due to the formal process in place to maintain the shout system,’ Mr Crawford said.

‘This system, instead of identifying at risk gamblers with a view to helping combat their problem, targeted them to further encourage their gambling.

‘An operator owned by one of Australia’s biggest and most recognisable companies should run its businesses to the highest legal and ethical standards and be mindful of its capacity to cause harm to vulnerable people,’ said Mr Crawford.

Ballina pokies survivor and Kickin’ the Punt founder Ben Hamilton today told Echonetdaily, ‘The restrictions imposed and the legal costs they have to cover are a drop in the ocean, completely disproportionate to their bottom line. The industry is predatory, and they encourage their venues all across NSW to prey on our vulnerable people in the communities.

‘ALH has clearly made the area manager a scapegoat.

‘The owners and senior management of the Westower should be ashamed. The staff need to speak out and take a stand against this kind of behaviour. No amount of money is worth someone’s life.’

Kickin’ the Punt’s first petition, to limit pokie numbers on the Northern Rivers, particularly in Ballina, has now received over 1,000 signatures.

If this story has brought up issues for you, please call Lifeline on 131114 or visit them on the net. The Northern Rivers Gambling Counselling Service is here.

  • Mention of ClubsNSW was removed from the story after their request

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Why are they not loosing tbeir pokies licence altogether, seems ALH are always in trouble with gambling laws. I believe it’s about tome their licence was revoked

  2. It is so much worse at ALH than these two venues and it country wide. They have gotten off incredibly lightly. Prior to this there was a program called “customer first” where staff were encouraged to keep players at the pokies by any means necessary, prying then with food and coffee or soft drink at the machines instead of alcohol. The venue manager whose hotel scored the best would get a free holiday to Vegas and staff that were observed not enforcing this were punished.

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