Fairfax has published a damning expose on the alleged workings of Woolworths-backed ALH and its approach to optimising gaming revenue through patron monitoring and inducements.
Yesterday’s story in the Sydney Morning Herald alludes to a company-wide system of recording and sharing detailed information on gaming regulars, including gambling habits and conversational prompts, for the purpose of keeping them “in the rooms” as long as possible.
The story is reported to emanate from contact by two whistle-blowers to the offices of Tasmanian anti-gaming independent Andrew Wilkie mid-2017. It is not explained why the former staff, said to be from Queensland, would contact Wilkie in favour of local authorities or regulatory channels, or why the damning information would be suppressed for eight months.
An interview with Wilkie’s office elicited that the policy of conversing with patrons “used to be an unwritten thing”, but that this has escalated into formal documentation and analysis of patron behaviour “so that we can get people to stay for as long as possible, to put as much money into the machines as possible”.
The SMH published screenshots supplied by Wilkie’s office, showing bullet-points on a morning shift at an unidentified pub, where gaming patrons were plied with drinks, toasties and other incentives to keep them onsite.
The unnamed informant, said to be a former employee, claims staff are doing reconnaissance on gaming patrons, “looking over people’s shoulders” and documenting spend patterns. Staff are said to be being incentivised to do this, receiving gift vouchers for milestones.
“This behaviour shows a complete lack of corporate responsibility and in some jurisdictions it might be illegal,” championed Wilkie to Fairfax.
While the as-yet unverified ‘screenshots’ show practises likely in breach of both responsible service of gambling laws and regulations around alcohol inducements – “smashing out drinks to keep everyone in the room” – the story features enough glaring errors to make its authenticity questionable.
Australian Leisure & Hospitality (ALH) operates almost 340 pubs across all States and Territories bar the ACT, but is accredited with 400 in the SMH story.
More importantly, ALH’s EGMs are accredited with bringing in 10 per cent of the listed Woolworths’ (ASX: WOW) earnings. Takings through the machines were cited, estimated in another recent Fairfax article as amounting to “at least $1.2 billion”.
The recently released half-yearly report shows ALH’s EBIT as $163m, up slightly on last year. This figure is just over 10 per cent of the parent company’s total EBIT, but comes from its bar, food, 1800+ accommodation rooms, and gaming revenues – and is still a long way from the billion-plus figure cited.
ALH is obviously very concerned about the accusations, and issued a public reply on its website referencing its prompt alerting of OLGA in Queensland, and ongoing audit of its gaming operations.
Melbourne, February 28
ALH takes its obligations for the Responsible Service of Gaming (RSG) and the Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) in all its venues extremely seriously.
Our industry and operations are robustly regulated by independent authorities in each state and our compliance with all laws and regulations is not negotiable.
ALH must put its customers’ interests first. There is a line which must be respected between legitimate customer service and loyalty initiatives that are part and parcel of every hospitality business and the requirements of the RSG and RSA codes.
If there are instances where that line has been crossed ALH is committed to taking the necessary steps to rectify any breach and address any non-compliant behaviour.
To this end we have notified the independent regulator in Queensland where the matters canvassed today originated in mid-2017 and stand ready to provide any assistance or information if the regulator requires.
Further, in 2017 ALH engaged the Responsible Gambling Council of Canada to conduct a full audit of our responsible gambling programs and operations across our venues. ALH will expand the scope of the RGC Canada audit to include matters raised today and will give everyone the opportunity to contribute.