Wesfarmers considers pokies exit in bid to tackle problem gambling

Billions of dirty dollars are flushed through the pokies every year in NSW alone, Michael Pascoe writes.

Billions of dirty dollars are flushed through the pokies every year in NSW alone, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: AAP

Retail group Wesfarmers has thrown its weight behind gambling reform by not ruling out dumping its gaming operations unless changes are introduced to limit the social damage caused by poker machines.

The company’s chief executive, Richard Goyder, has told ABC’s The Business it was pushing poker-machine manufacturers to make software changes that would allow it to introduce a $1 per spin limit to poker machines, which it could trial in its hotels.

“We had a conversation at board level about this and there’s a really strong desire from both Wesfarmers and Coles to move this along and I’m hopeful this will happen,” he said.

Wesfarmers began its push last year but it is being stonewalled by poker-machine manufacturers.

“I’m hoping we get a positive response because we’d like to trial it — we think it is the right thing to do and we’re a bit frustrated at the moment that we can’t do it,” Mr Goyder said.

Mr Goyder is poised take over from Mike Fitzpatrick as the chairman of the AFL commission, and there is angst among the AFL playing group about the amount of gambling advertising during broadcasts of matches.

Wesfarmers inherited a large gambling business when it bought Coles in 2007, including a swag of Queensland hotels bought in order to compete against rival Woolworths in the liquor business.

“The reason we’re in pokies is that legislation in Queensland mandates that to retail liquor, you have to own hotels,” he said.

When asked if the company would consider selling its poker machines, Mr Goyder said: “We need that legislation to change and it’s fair to say we’ll look at all options, but at the end of the day we are a good operator and an ethical operator of these businesses and we should be allowed to trial $1 spin limits in line with the Productivity Commission recommendations.”

He added the limit would “reduce the harm that comes from one end of the pokie industry”.

“But if we can’t do that, we’ll look at other options,” he said.

Wesfarmers CEO Richard Goyder

Richard Goyder says Wesfarmers and Coles are serious about pokies reform. Photo: AAP

When asked how quickly the Wesfarmers board wanted the issue resolved, Mr Goyder replied: “I’m serious about it and there’s no doubt the board and John Durkin [managing director] at Coles is serious as well, so we would like it to move forward as quickly as we can.”

Pokies reform is shaping up to be an issue that could be a legacy for Mr Goyder as he prepares to leave Wesfarmers at the end of the year.

Move follows promise to tackle problem gambling

The issue was put on Mr Goyder’s agenda at a meeting with World Vision Australia’s Tim Costello three years ago, when he made a promise to tackle problem gambling.

Coles has been in communication with long-time anti-gambling campaigners senator Nick Xenophon and MP Andrew Wilkie.

Mr Wilkie told the ABC Wesfarmers should be congratulated for continuing to push against the might of the gambling lobby.

“It’s nothing short of scandalous that Australia’s poker-machine manufacturers are refusing to make safer $1-maximum bet machines, and vitally important that Coles doesn’t buckle to such unscrupulous behaviour,” he said.

<br /> We know that 40 per cent of money lost on poker machines is lost by gambling addicts.

“Any corporation whose business model depends on this, or which supports the operators of poker machines, is patently unethical and to be condemned.”

Wesfarmers rival Woolworths is the biggest poker-machine operator in the country and has not shown interest in pushing for $1 machines.


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