Monday, 12 March 2012

The Woolworths Guarantee

Last night, during the Channel 9 broadcast of the Great Mint Swindle, Woolworths chose to blanket the airways with the launch of the Fresh or Free guarantee. According to the website, Mumbrella, this defence of Woolworths claim to be the Fresh Food People is in response to the Coles marketing "There's no freshness like Coles freshness". It seems like this campaign about the word "Fresh" has been around for a while.

There is even "Fresh Food Kids" where one can "learn about healthy eating and have fun at the same time." Given last night's Sunday Night on Seven, there should be lot's of cautions for kids about sugar intake. The best warning is that high sugar foods are classified as "sometimes" or "these foods are okay to eat every now and then". Regrettably their kid's recipe for Apple Sultana Muffins has no "sometimes" food classification despite it prescribing a full cup of sugar.

I'll return to the evidence about Woolworths real concern for children below.

Here's is the latest Woolworths' graphic.

Last night's TV ads depicted happy Woolworths' farmers and producers spruicking their concern for freshness. The research and production cost of these ads would have been enormous. Potentially millions were paid to the television networks for advertising time.

So is it just marketing? Or is it like our Prime Minister Gillard desperate for success who will make an undertaking that she ultimately dishonours. Like Gillard, does Woolworths show contempt for hundreds of thousands of people simply to maintain their particular status quo. 

Put another way, can Woolworths be trusted? If Woolworths' conduct of their pokie business is a guide, then, in this writer's opinion, the answer is no. 

David Schwarz - Gambling Ambassador

An example is their paid exploitation of the AFL through David Schwarz. Schwarz had an outstanding AFL career showing incredible personal and physical courage. Unfortunately, Schwarz had a addiction to gambling. Woolworths has made Mr Schwarz the image of their pokie gambling empire, the largest in Australia.
While it seems that most of his gambling was horse related, Schwarz is now paid a six figure salary by the Woolworths poker machine gambling associate (ALH) "to provide employee education and customer awareness about the importance of "being honest with yourself about your gambling." His title is "Responsible Gambling Ambassador".

The reality is that Schwarz makes a far more attractive spokesperson than "Pokies King" Bruce Mathieson with his multi-million dollar homes and poor media presence.

And Schwarz is being used. You can read about Schwarz opposing gamblers being required to set a limit on their losses with any mention of him being a Woolworths shill (look it up!) edited out in The Age. It's not in this release by Clubs Victoria either.

According to reports, Schwarz has been recruited by Clubs Australia to aid their campaign against pokie reforms. His slickly produced video is posted to YouTube by ClubsNSW. With outstanding arrogance, he dismisses the years of work and evidence based recommendations of the Productivity Commission. He fails to mention his employment by the Woolworths' pokie associate.

Read how Schwarz pushes to take credit where no credit is due in this article about Brad Scott putting gambling back on the agenda. Scott spoke in the context of the 'Roos pioneering sponsorship with WorldVision. As the face of Woolworths' gambling, Schwarz  discloses his pokie association by shamelessly managing to pitch Herald Sun writer, Mark Robinson to include a plug for the Woolworths' associate ALH.

Schwarz' plug for ALH is about an award the Woolworths' associate was given by Clever Duck Media Ltd who publish the Infinity Gaming magazine. They are self-described as "a digital agency specializing in Websites, branding, design, technology, press ads, online ads, interactive content, digital presentation." The award won by the Woolworths 75% owned operator was sponsored by TCS John Huxley - a maker of casino accessories.

In their media release of 30 January, the Woolworths / Pokie King joint venture spruicked the following about the award;
"The judging panel commented “ALH were head and shoulders above the rest as they continuously make every effort to emphasise socially responsible gaming across the land-based sector. Demonstrating commitment, ALH puts people at the heart of their company mission to great effect.”

ALH Group responsible gambling initiatives include our industry-leading hotel and gaming charter, responsible gambling staff DVD and pocket guide.

David Schwarz, ALH Group Responsible Gambling Ambassador said “As a reformed problem gambler I am proud of my involvement over the past four years with the ALH Group and in the development of the unique responsible gambling program they have put in place”."

Woolworths Dominates in Australia's Worst State

Instead of being "proud" examination of the prevalence of problem gambling amongst Victorian gamblers should disgust any reasonable individual. Victoria is the worst in Australia. In case there's any doubt, here's table 5.4 extracted from the Productivity Commission's report on Gambling.

And with interests 6,566 Victorian pokies, (24.5% of all non-casino pokies) Woolworths and the Pokie King are the dominant poker machine force in Victoria. In the last fiscal year, gamblers lost an incredible $876 million at these Woolworths associated pokies. At 32.6%, this is nearly a third of all non-casino poker machine losses. Here's a list based upon Victorian Gambling Commission numbers where I calculated these sums. Please click on the image to enlarge.

For those who are statistically minded, an average of $133,467 was lost on each Woolies Victorian pokie. That's a lot of money in the state with Australia's worst problem gambling prevalence.

Woolworths Does Not Enforce Poker Machine Room Rules

And despite these awards, Woolworths and the Pokie King can't even enforce their own "guarantees" i.e. the rules in their own charters.

In February 2012, I was contacted by a reporter for The Guardian, a leading UK newspaper to have a chat about pokies. Rather than just chat or throw statistics, I took him to the Woolworths associated Meadow Inn Hotel in Fawkner. We both watched a man gamble simultaneously on two machines in plain view of venue staff.

The gambler's practice was a likely sign of problem gambling when the intensity of one machine is insufficient. Moreover, the practice was in clear contravention of the venue rules posted by the poker machine room cashier.  Simultaneous gambling is illegal in South Australia where Woolies and the Pokie King have pokie pubs.

This incident demonstrates poor training or tolerance of non-observance of Woolworths/Mathieson's venue rules. It also shows how little weight is truly given by Woolworths to the ALH gaming charter. At the last two Annual General Meetings of sharholders Woolworths' Board and management have been promoting their new Gaming Charter. Here's an extract of the relevant paragraphs:
  • We restrict gaming room access to adults and ensure gaming rooms are screened or separated from other areas of the hotel, so as to not attract children
  •  We ensure responsible service of alcohol and provision of gaming, by making sure management and staff adhere to all applicable rules and regulations and are trained to encourage and promote responsibility. 
  • We believe we have a shared responsibility, along with individuals, governments, families and the community, to prevent harm.
Lack of enforcement of the simultaneous gambling rule indicates lack of adherence to "all applicable rules".

Children Exposed to Pokie Gambling in Woolworths Venues

Then there is the exposure of pokie sights and sounds to children in this venue.  A clear glass divider allow for presence of pokie room lights to dominate eating area as well as child play area. In effect, there is no screening at all. Here again are the words of the ALH Charter:
"We... ensure gaming rooms are screened or separated from other areas of the hotel, so as to not attract children"
Unless it has changed since my last visit, only a clear glass wall separated the eating area of the Matthew Flinders Hotel. The picture below was taken from inside the child playing area.

There was not even a glass wall between the eating area immediately outside the child play room and the poker machine area at the Sands at Carrum Downs.

Children in the Pokie Room in Woolworths' Venues

Worst still is the report published in The Age. Read again the words of Woolworths' "Safety & Health" Charter. Woolworths states/undertakes/markets that
"we restrict gaming room access to adults..."
Now look at this picture of a child seated in front of taken inside the poker machine room at Woolworths associated Elsternwick pokie pub.

The Age reported that the prosecutor in the action against the Woolworths/Pokie King joint venture said
"the child ran in and out of the gaming machine area about 15 times over more than two hours and had used it as its ''plaything''
Margot Johnson, for the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, yesterday described the circumstances as ''one of the worst examples'' of the offence of a minor entering a gaming machine area."
It is extremely damning that the circumstances in a Woolworths associated hotel are publicly described as "one of the worst".

These events breach the ALH or Woolworths / Pokie King charter.

Contrary to its international award and promotion through David Schwarz, it shows that Woolworths is an organisation that makes guarantees/promises/undertakings that they do not observe. It shows a company that can not be trusted to do what it says.

1 comment:

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