Two pubs in the Woolworths-owned ALH Group have been outed by the regulator for targeting high-spending pokies players for free booze giveaways. ALH set the venues, Westower Tavern and South Tweed Tavern, a target of giving $47,000 worth of free booze to pokie players at two ALH pubs during the 2017/18 financial year.
Another $37,000 worth of “manager shouts” were understood to be “predominately” for gaming patrons.
“Hotel staff were encouraged to ensure that they gave away the full value of the target in free alcoholic drinks and were criticised if they did not do so,” the regulator found. The investigation also found the system had been in place since “well before” 2017.
The giveaways were listed as “gaming shouts” on the venues’ Google drive. Each day’s gaming shouts were recorded in green (daily minimum met) or in red (daily minimum not met).
Licensees were told, regarding the free booze targets, “I strongly suggest not limiting your daily targets to the minimum ones I have set on the template. No one ever won anything great just by doing the absolute bare minimum”.
Internal emails referred to the targets “Gaming VIPs.” Booze giveaways were “made on the basis of the gaming habits of particular customers.” Staff were told to look for the amount of money being bet on each tap.
Slap on the wrist to Woolworths for breaching pokies regulations
Despite the authority finding “the targeted and systemic provision of free alcohol to gaming machine players at the Venues over a prolonged period of time,” the punishments were extremely minor.
ALH was ordered to pay the regulator’s investigation costs of $172,692. Its poker machines at the two venues were also suspended from operation for two weeks.
The estimated cost of this measure is $100,000 for the fortnight. For reference, non-pokie revenue at the two venues combined amounts to around $117,000 a fortnight.
The regulator is in fact hamstrung is punishing ALH Group directly. Even the costs order was formally levied against the former licensees, on the understanding it would be paid by ALH Group. It appears to be, as one of the licensees put it, “a system I believe was set up in a way to protect the company from regulatory fines and responsibility placing the onus completely on the individual venue manager.”