Australia’s fresh food people are on their way to becoming one of the world’s largest pokies operators. Woolworths runs 11,700 pokies machines across Australia, which is more than the ‘big six’ casinos in Las Vegas combined.
Woolworths running pokies will come as no surprise to many. What has changed over recent months is how much Woolworths is earning from its gaming arm – and the increase has been significant. One industry estimate puts Woolworths on track to earn more than $200 million per year from gambling, which puts it on par with Australia’s fourth-largest gaming operator.
This boost in earnings was kicked off by a change in Victoria’s pokies licence system in August this year, which broke up the monopoly of gambling giants Tabcorp and Tatts. The largest beneficiary of that change is Woolworths.
Woolworths has committed to spending more than $164.3 million on poker machine entitlements, and a further $26.2 million on new machines.
Activist group GetUp! secured the signatures of 210 Woolworths shareholders for a proposal to install a $1 bet limit across all gaming facilitated by Woolworths in an attempt to reduce problem gambling. The proposal was rejected.
Woolworths has long been infamous for its pokies machines. But even I was surprised to discover how far it has spread and how much my local supermarket is profiting from the misery of others. Clearly Woolworths has found its venture into the world of gaming a success. The point of a business is to make a profit and I don’t begrudge the supermarket chain its income.
What infuriates me is its lack of regard for the communities and the people from whom they profit . I know it’s an unpopular theory, but I would like to propose that it is possible to run a big (and profitable) business AND have a social conscience. Due to a law change (also known as sheer dumb luck) Woolworths has come into a lot of unexpected money.
Problem gambling in Australia is a serious issue. A 2010 Productivity Commission report suggested the $1 bet limit as a good way to help reduce problem gambling, which is what the GetUp! campaign was based on. But Woolworths rejected the proposal and instead of putting some of its extraordinary new profit into researching ways to reduce problem gambling, or helping communities or families suffering from problem gambling, it simply pledged to spend the money on making more money.
Next time I go grocery shopping it won’t be at Woolworths – I’m going to the locally run supermarket that’s just a little further down the road, to support my local community and to avoid funding another pokies machine.
Do you think Woolworths should be considering ways to reduce problem gambling? Has the information about the Woolworths pokies machines affected whether or not you shop there?