Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Why The Secrecy?

At the 2007 Woolworths' Annual General Meeting, CEO Michael Luscombe talked about the self barring ("self-exclusion") facilities that exist in all of their pokie venues. It seems that although Mr Luscombe wanted to tell shareholders about this facility, he doesn't want problem gamblers to know about it. Here's what Mr Luscombe said:
"We do have facilities for self barring in all of our hotels. (Is that right, Bruce? Right?)"
In the year between the 2007 and 2008 AGMs, I visited all of Woolworths Victorian associated pokie pubs and clubs. I do not recall one instance where the opportunity of self-exclusion was promoted. Not sure why they keep it a secret.

In South Australia self exclusion is not a secret. Woolies place A4 sized signs up in their S.A. venues warning already self excluded gamblers to report to the duty manager. This seems to be a cost effective measure targeted at problem gamblers. It takes no more than a word processor, a home printer and a bit of sticky tape to effect this measure. It would not affect recreational gamblers.

Because Woolworths, for some reason, seemed incapable of solving this problem in Victoria, at the last AGM, I printed off 100 A4 sized notices and promised to deliver them to Woolworths' Chief Counsel Peter Horton. Here's what they looked like:Even though my expectation of a response was low, I was disappointed that I got no response at all to a measure that would cost so little but perhaps make a difference to a problem gambler.

The lack of action on the part of Woolworths left me with the impression that despite their statements of highest standards and community service that Woolworths would do nothing to reduce the harm caused to problem gamblers unless they were legislatively required to do so. Not only was this hypocritical, but irresponsible.

It gets worse.

Subsequent Victorian laws required that a self-exclusion programme must be brought into effect by 1 June 2009. Such a program would become a license condition and the gambling commission will be able to take disciplinary action if there are repeated breaches of such program.

Part of Section 3 of the Self Exclusion Program in place at Woolworths associated venues states:
The provision of information to customers
A self-exclusion program must detail:
a. how the venue operator will ensure that customers are made aware of the availability of a self-exclusion program
b. how information about a self-exclusion program will be made available to customers
(a & b) Information on Self-exclusion
Persons (customers) will be able to access information which allows them to be aware of the availability of Self-exclusion. This can be done via relevant brochures on Self-exclusion provided by gaming venues. An updated information brochure is currently under construction.
No brochure focused upon self-exclusion has been produced. However, to satisfy this requirement, Victorian pokie venues display business cards typically by the cashier that are produced by the Australian Hotels Association. Here's what that card looks like:

From 8 November until 19 November 2009, I visited 26 Woolworths/Mathieson associated pubs and clubs. 11 venues failed to display these cards. This is not a measure that requires sophisticated staff training. Here's a list of the hotels visited and the dates and times of the inspection:
8 November 2009
12:27 Sandown Park Hotel

10 November 2009
12:50 Ashley Hotel
1:45 Westend Tavern
2:25 Glengala Hotel
6:11 Sylvania Hotel

18 November 2009
4:45 Courthouse Hotel (Footscray)
5:14 Powell Hotel
5:35 Highpoint Taverner
6:16 Royal Hotel (Essendon)
7:30 First & Last Hotel

19 November 2009
4:12 Shoppingtown Hotel
At the associated Deer Park Hotel, the cards were placed in a holder with other brochures atop the ATM. Here's a picture.At the Pascoe Vale Taverner, cards were placed in the same holder as brochures promoting the venue's membership scheme.

I submited to the VCGR that these practices do not comply with the requirements of their approved self-exclusion program.

It gets worse.

At the associated Westmeadow Tavern management had placed the self-exclusion notices in a card holder promoting the 05.com.au service where patrons could get their drivers license back despite having lost their license for drunk driving. There was also a cardholder with cards for 05.com.au. While not commenting upon the substance of the 05.com.au practice, this is not a good promotional pitch to send to people whose pokie gambling problems are so severe that they feel the solution is to exclude themselves.

Such continued failures contradict statements of concerned management given by Messrs. Strong & Luscombe. If the organisation can not even place cards in a card holder by a cashier, then one can only speculate upon what other practices may be lacking in their other business.

For example, is the Fresh Food really fresh?

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