Woolworths: The Pokies People - Alliance for Gambling Reform

Woolworths: Explainer

Woolworths is the biggest operator of pokies in the country, the most damaging type of gambling to Australians. In 2015-16, pokies losses grew 4.2 percent nationally, roughly double the rate of inflation to reach $12 billion. Australia holds the world's highest per capita losses, more than $1200 per year!



It's been estimated that Woolworths' annual net pokie revenue is at least $1.2 billion.


Woolies generates 11.7% of its annual profit from its pokie business. They have more than 12,000 pokies across 330 venues all around Australia: far more than Star City or Crown Casino.

Woolworths is Australia's most predatory pokie business, profiting immensely through a product that is designed to addict and causes immeasurable harm to individuals, families and communities around the country every single day, all whilst labelling themselves a "family-friendly business".

So, how does Woolies Pokies business work?

Woolworths, one of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, is the biggest operator of pokies in the country. They control about 12,000 machines through its majority stake in the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, (ALH) a large company that encompasses bars, restaurants and wagering.


ALH is 75 percent owned by Woolworths, with its founder Bruce Mathieson holding the other 25 percent. It is run by Woolworths’ high-profile former boss Roger Corbett.

They are also the biggest member of the Australian Hotels Association, which exerts worrying levels of political influence.

Why we're worried:

In the 2018 South Australian state election, Nick Xenophon's SA-Best party campaigned on public health-driven gambling policy reform. To hold off this threat, the pokies industry backed not just one of the major parties but both of them, donating in almost equal measure to the South Australian Labor government and the Liberal opposition, in tandem with a targeted campaign against Xenophon waged online and on the ground. The Australian Hotels Association SA confirmed that over the 2017 calendar year,  they contributed $49,973 to the Liberal party, $43,534 to Labor, as well as $20,000 to Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives. 

We don't want them to buy Australian democracy!

The whistleblowers:

In early 2018, the Federal MP Andrew Wilkie published multiple interviews with whistleblowers who were staff from Woolworths/ls and what they alleged is shocking! To quote directly:

"Staff in pubs owned by Woolworths are secretly recording and sharing detailed personal information - such as gambling habits or even favourite football teams - about high-turnover gamblers to encourage them to stay in the venues longer and increase their losses. The data is being shared on a Google drive among all 400 pubs in Woolworths' network across the country in a bid to increase the chain’s poker machine revenue."

"The staff are rewarded with gift vouchers when betting targets are reached or broken, and notes were taken by staff to record what actions they took to encourage gamblers to stay on site."


“You’d record that stuff so that any new gaming staff can easily get up to speed with our VIP customers, who we want to keep gambling for as long as possible, so you can easily strike up a conversation with them and build rapport really quickly. You know the ins-and-outs of their life. You’re writing down what they do, when they sort of …what time they normally come in, the teams they barrack for and then you can go and have a conversation with them very, very easily because you’ve got that background information.

“It’s the predatory tactics that's being deployed. It’s unethical and essentially you are looking over people’s shoulders, and documenting what people are doing and they don’t know that you are doing that. They think you are having a general chit-chat with them, but you are actually profiling it."


A whistleblower who worked at a Woolworths-owned pub has described how staff meetings were held to discuss how to encourage a grieving woman nicknamed “Queen Bee” by management to put her inheritance into poker machines after the loss of her parents.

The woman had previously worked in a professional job, but began to gamble heavily while on workers compensation after the death of her parents, the staff members said.

The allegation is one of several made by two staff members who worked at different pubs owned by Woolworths pub subsidiary, ALH.

“We basically had a staff meeting straight out saying … ‘When she comes in, day or night or whatever, just treat her like Queen Bee.’ Like she will get this, that, free drinks, free food. They kept her there. If the music was not to her liking, in the gaming room, bang bang bang. We would go there and change the music back to hers.”

"I felt a bit guilty doing it, to be honest, but that’s part of the job when you are working in ALH."

“It’s pretty much all venues,” says one in a video interview. “I’ve been to venues where they do the same tactics. And it’s not OK.”


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