In Gaming - Pokies by Clyde Mooney

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Wesfarmers continues its rhetoric around poker machines, alluding to “other options” if it can’t get government or manufacturers to back its trial of $1 bet limits.

Chief executive Richard Goyder told ABC’s The Business Wesfarmers was pushing for poker machine manufacturers to make changes to machines in pubs operated by its Spirit Hotels, to allow a $1 bet limit to be set.

“We’d like to trial it — we think it is the right thing to do,” said Goyder.

ASX-listed entity Wesfarmers purchased Coles in 2007. The deal made it the new owner of Spirit Hotels’ 80-odd pubs – 75 per cent in Queensland – and nearly 3,000 EGMs.

Goyder stressed they were in this position of hotel ownership purely because of Queensland’s requirement that retail liquor outlets be linked to a hotel.

Coles is the second-largest retailer of liquor in the country, behind Woolworths’ Endeavour Drinks, which is similarly linked to Australian Leisure & Hospitality’s (ALH) 300+ venues, around 40 per cent of which are in Queensland.

Wesfarmers recently released its half-year report for FY17, showing food and liquor sales up 2.2 per cent (compared to PCP), but like Woolworths, it does not stipulate the P&L of the hotel business, particularly not the gaming operations.

Rumours are that Goyder has a social connection with big-wigs from the Alliance for Gambling Reform, and the public distancing from gaming in its pubs bodes well for the company’s family-friendly persona – bolstered by Woolworths’ epithet of Australia’s biggest publican and pokie operator.

The subject of pokies has again been in the spotlight, with crusader politicians Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie continuing to push for changes to legislation – despite previous studies that undermine the efficacy of $1 bet limits or mandatory pre-commitment strategies.

Wilkie suggested to the ABC that Wesfarmers should be congratulated for pushing gambling manufacturers for special treatment, although the companies have made it clear the issue is not simple, and cannot be done without major changes, some not possible on a large percentage of existing machines.

Wilkie described manufacturer behaviour as “nothing short of scandalous” and spouted unverified stats as he damned to hell anyone involved with gaming.

“We know that 40 per cent of money lost on poker machines is lost by gambling addicts and any corporation whose business model depends on this, or which supports the operators of poker machines, is patently unethical and to be condemned.”

It remains to be seen if Wesfarmers financial interests in the gaming behind the successful pubs in its profitable Spirit Hotels division will be sacrificed to the gods of public opinion. Meanwhile, demanding that which cannot be done is a great bet both ways.