Pubs fined, penalised for offering free alcohol to gamblers

TWO Northern NSW pubs have been fined for offering free alcohol to gamblers.

As part of the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority's penalty, licensees of the Westower Tavern in West Ballina and South Tweed Tavern were fined a total of $3,500.

Hotel licensees Andrew Wyeth, Rachel Watts and Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group Pty Ltd (ALH) were found to have contravened the Gaming Machines Regulation 2010, including that Mr Wyeth and Ms Watts "engaged in conduct that had encouraged, or is likely to encourage, the misuse and abuse of gambling activities".

Liquor & Gaming NSW inspected more than 50 ALH venues across NSW and formally investigated four.

Under NSW gaming laws, it is illegal to offer or supply free or discounted alcohol to induce gambling.

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority's decision means that the Westower Tavern's authorisation to operate 30 gaming machines will be suspended for two weeks from August 1.

The same suspension will apply to the South Tweed Tavern's 26 machines, from the same date.

The investigation included Mr Wyeth, a former licensee of Westower and South Tweed taverns, Ms Watts, the current licensee of Westower and former licensee of South Tweed, and Morgan Bensley, a "close associate of both taverns" according to Liquor & Gaming NSW.

Mr Wyeth was fined $1,000, Ms Watts was fined $2,500 and Mr Bensley was disqualified from being a close associate for a period of five years.

Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group Pty Ltd (ALH), was reprimanded as a close associate of the Westower Tavern and the South Tweed Tavern.

Ms Watts and Mr Wyeth were ordered to pay $172,692.44, representing the costs incurred by the Department of Customer Service's investigation.

ALH has undertaken to pay these costs.

 

The Westower Tavern in Ballina. Photo Blainey Woodham / The Northern Star
The Westower Tavern in Ballina. Photo Blainey Woodham / The Northern Star

 

With more than 300 licensed venues, Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH) is 75 per cent owned by Woolworths and the third biggest poker machine operator in Australia.

An ALH spokesman said the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) findings relate to activities at the two hotels in 2017.

"What we're focused on at ALH is holding ourselves to the highest standards. We take our obligations for the Responsible Service of Gaming and the Responsible Service of Alcohol in all our venues extremely seriously," he said.

"When this issue was first raised in 2017, ALH commissioned a full review of our responsible gambling programs and operations across all venues.

"As a result of that review, we took a number of significant steps to enhance our responsible gaming practices, improve training for our venue leadership teams and preclude the service of complimentary alcohol in gaming rooms. ILGA has acknowledged the work undertaken by ALH within its findings."

ALH is currently reviewing the final decision and penalty decision by ILGA.

Executive Director of Investigations and Enforcement for Liquor & Gaming, Valerie Griswold, said both venues had implemented tactics specifically designed to encourage gambling.

"A system whereby gamblers were given free liquor 'shouts' was captured in daily reporting targets and tied to gaming profits and staff performance," Ms Griswold said.

"Staff were encouraged to seek out regular and high bidding gamblers for free drinks - a process that was documented and managed through reports and staff emails.

"This practice illegally used alcohol to boost gambling and what it does, essentially, is reduce a person's control of their gambling."

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority's Chair Philip Crawford said the fine reflects the seriousness of establishing an administrative system to incentivise gambling.

"ALH management was fully aware of what was happening in their venues due to the formal process in place to maintain the shout system," Mr Crawford said.

"This system, instead of identifying at risk gamblers with a view to helping combat their problem, targeted them to further encourage their gambling.

"An operator owned by one of Australia's biggest and most recognisable companies should run its businesses to the highest legal and ethical standards and be mindful of its capacity to cause harm to vulnerable people."

The Northern NSW venues declined to comment.



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