Woolworths in Hot Water for Offering Free Drinks to Gamblers

Drinks on a table
Woolworths in Australia is at the center of whistleblowing allegations over free drinks to gamblers.

30-second summary:

  • A branch of Woolworths in Australia has been caught up in criminal activity allegations
  • A year on from the initial hearing a new whistle-blower has come forward
  • Database findings support evidence
  • Liquor & Gaming NSW is looking into it

There’s trouble for Woolworths in Australia. Despite initial investigations opening a year ago, a new whistleblower has come forward to confirm that drinks were handed out for free in the gaming room.

As of yet Woolworths has released no comment, but with Australia being known as the gambling capital of the world these sorts of complaints will be taken seriously.

Shocking allegations 

The New South Wales regulator, Liquor & Gaming NSW, was brought in after allegations made by Andrew Wilkie, an independent MP and long-standing anti-gambling campaigner.

He alleged that Woolworths and ALH (Australian Leisure and Hospitality) – its gambling subsidiary – spy on their customers who are gambling.

The company was reportedly keeping customers’ personal information – including their gambling and drinking preferences – on a database.The inference is that this would assist the team on the ground to offer free drinks and therefore encourage them to continue gambling.

After such a shocking allegation, ALH began an internal investigation. However, it provided only a summary of the findings to the office of Liquor & Gaming NSW. Wilkie responded that the internal investigation did not meet proper standards, despite ALH citing “legal privilege” reasons for not handing over its full findings.

Whistleblower alleges criminal activity

Now, a new whistleblower has come forward to claim that staff were actively instructed and taught how to entice players to continue to play through offering free drinks, then how to cover up the practice.

ABC news reported that Emma Pearson, a former employee and gaming room attendant, was not only encouraged to serve free drinks at an ALH Hotel in west Sydney. She was also taught how to cover up the illegal practice – by putting the free drinks through the main bar till as “a local’s birthday”, rather than the till in the gaming room.

Special notices issued

It has been confirmed that Liquor & Gaming NSW has issued special notices to ALH. The regulator has obtained a significant volume of information and records, enabling it to question its past and present staff members.

Across Australia, ALH owns approximately 12,000 poker machines in its 300 licensed venues. These generate no less than A$1.5bn ($1.066bn) annually. Liquor & Gaming NSW has revealed to ABC news that it is conducting an ongoing investigation in more than 50 of these venues, in which Woolworths has a 75% stake.