- »NSW Regulator Issues Largest Gambling Fines in Past Week
NSW Regulator Issues Largest Gambling Fines in Past Week
The New South Wales gambling regulator has been busy this month. July may be less than three weeks in, but the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority is making the most of it by issuing record-setting fines: one to Woolworths and the other to an RSL club.
Woolworths: Record Fine by NSW
Liquor & Gaming NSW issued a fine of $172,000 to the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH) for actions taken by Woolies. Woolworths owns 75% of ALH, which is the third-largest pokies operator in all of Australia.
When the regulator issued the $172,692 fine to ALH on July 12, it was the largest fine of its kind to date.
The penalty stems from inspections by Liquor & Gaming NSW at more than 50 ALH venues in NSW. Four of those inspections transformed into formal investigations, which resulted in two serious gaming infractions. Westower Tavern in Ballina and South Tweed Tavern were the two violating clubs.
NSW accused those venues of “systemically” supplying gaming patrons with free alcohol. Both locations tried to encourage gambling by giving free liquor “shouts.” Not only did employees offer alcoholic drinks for playing, the management of those locations encouraged the employees to do so. They targeted regular visitors to the pokies and high-stakes gamblers.
The NSW regulator found that staff encouragement to offer free drinks was “documented and managed through reports and staff emails.” The investigators concluded that daily reporting targets were tied to gaming profits and staff performances.
In addition to that record fine, the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority reprimanded the locations by forbidding them to operate poker machines for two weeks. This could lead to more significant costs that the $172K fine.
Liquor & Gaming NSW Chair Philip Crawford noted, “An operator owned by one of Australia’s biggest and most recognizable companies should run its businesses to the highest legal and ethical standards and be mindful of its capacity to cause harm to vulnerable people.”
Not the First Pokies Problem for Woolworths
Woolworths has been scrutinized for years regarding its offerings to customers to entice gambling. The company even conducted its own investigations.
A whistleblower came forward in 2018 to allege that Woolworths staff at approximately two dozen locations around Australia offered free drinks to customers to keep them at the slot machines for longer periods of time.
The connections between ALH Group and Woolworths also came under fire, as investors grew concerned about the pokies threatening the entire Woolworths brand.
All of this led to a Woolworths decision in 2019 to combine its drinks and pubs sectors into a separate company. The Endeavor Group would operate approximately 1,500 liquor stores and 327 pubs, about 30% of Woolworths’ business and worth nearly $10 billion. The plan began to take shape before the end of 2019.
The new NSW discoveries, investigations, and penalties puts the spotlight back on ALH and Woolworths. And it couldn’t happen at a more inconvenient time, as the companies are trying to recover from months of shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dee Why RSL: New Record Fine
Less than one week after Liquor & Gaming NSW levied the historic fine against ALH, the regulator topped itself, though it likely provided no joy to do so.
The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority fined Dee Why RSL $200,000 after an investigation into the suicide of club customer Gary Van Duinen in 2018. Further, the club must establish a third-party exclusion scheme for problem gamblers, one that will be available to their family and friends to implement a ban on that gambler from entering the club.
Even more, the regulator will assign a gambling marshall to monitor the Dee Why RSL gaming area to ensure that any the club understands and addresses gamblers with potential problems. The marshall may also engage with patrons of concern.
The Van Duinen Incident
Gary Van Duinen was a 45-year-old builder from Cromer. He was also a member of the Dee Why RSL’s rewards program, one that classified him as a diamond member with extra benefits. Some of those included VIP parking privileges, private entry to the club, a personal host, priority paging on the gaming floor, and more reward points for all food and beverage purchases.
His wife, Sonia, claimed that Gary was very pleased with the VIP status and felt like royalty at the club.
The benefits also enticed Van Duinen to spend more time at the club. In the two years leading up to his death in May 2018, he visited Dee Why RSL 170 times. Each time, he played an average of six hours but sometimes played for up to 13 hours. His play showed swings of approximately $22,000 per visit.
And during that time, Van Duinen gambled more than $3.7 million, of which he lost $230,000 overall.
Van Duinen’s wife tried to complain and intervene, but the club ignored her pleas. The NSW ILGA also concluded that the club neglected to recognize and/or offer assistance.
ILGA Chair Crawford said, “It was the club’s selection of Mr. Van Duinen as a ‘top 100’ gaming machine player, targeted exclusively to receive special ‘high roller’ benefits like harbour cruises and race day events, that was found likely to encourage the misuse and abuse of gambling.”
Further, Crawford said that the club’s actions “contravened both gaming machines and registered clubs’ legislation.”
There is help for anyone who experiences any feelings about gambling, any signs of distress or worry related to gambling of any kind. NSW offers assistance through Gambling Help, which is available at any hour of the day or night, every day of the week.
- Gambling Help telephone: 1800-858-858
- Gambling Help website: gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au
Online casino players will find many available tools as well, as customer service representatives at all of the top Aussie casino sites are ready to provide tools and information. Players can also set limits on their gambling via those representatives.
Check here for more information about problem gambling and a list of symptoms and signs.