Senator Nick Xenophon with a sign that tells the story.
Australia is home to the largest number of dangerous high-loss pokie machines in the world – and grocery giant Woolies is the king of the hill: the largest pokie machine venue owner in the country, with more pokie machines than the top five Las Vegas casinos combined!
Why? Pure dollars: owning hotels with pokie machines is reportedly three times more profitable than selling groceries. No one would know this better than Australia's trusted household brand, which now has more than 12,000 computerised gambling machines in around 300 hotels across the country.
These machines have been called the "crack cocaine" of gambling. Players are estimated to lose hundreds of millions of dollars annually. They’re designed to be highly addictive, especially to those already prone to problem gambling, making them uniquely profitable to big corporations and destructive to the lives of thousands of Australian families. Plenty of Woolworths customers – and shareholders – are not happy that the ‘Fresh Food People’ are heavily profiting from an industry that’s taking the food off so many family tables. Together, we’re taking our voices to the top by presenting your petition directly to senior executives at this Thursday's Woolworths AGM.
Imagine the look on the faces of these back room executives when we tell them directly how many shareholders, employees and customers of Woolworths want them to better serve their customers by coming out in support of pokie reform. We won't reveal your name to Woolworths but the total number will be powerful. Can you let us know if you are a Wooloworths customer, employee or shareholder?
It’s alarming enough that a trusted family brand has out-invested the top five Las Vegas casinos in pokie machines – but they’ve also made it clear that they don't think that their many customers who have been devastated by the impacts of problem gambling are their problem. Earlier this year the head of Woolworths' gambling subsidiary spoke in front of a parliamentary inquiry and shamelessly compared gambling addiction to hamburgers by saying: ''I think the product is safe. Some people have addictions, be it to fast food or drugs…are we asking, is a hamburger safe?"  Woolworths representatives sit on the executive board of the Australian Hotels Association, who are jointly responsible with Clubs Australia for the so called '$20 million' mass advertising campaign against pokies reform.
Woolworths may have the dollars, but with more than 585,000 of us across the country – many of whom are Woolies' shareholders, employees and customers – we can change the direction of the company. Some concerned individuals have already volunteered to allow GetUp to send “proxies” on their behalf to the AGM – spokespeople who will represent them, and speak directly about their personal experience of the devastating effects of problem pokie gambling (and present your petition). It's a rare opportunity to take our message directly to the top and have it delivered, not by an outside group of activists, but through the company's own concerned shareholders. Add your voice now: let us know if you’re a Woolworths shareholder, employee or customer and be part of the message to company executives on Thursday.
An Annual General Meeting is the one chance we get each year to bypass the usual spin doctors and media gate holders and speak directly to the company chair and senior executives, publicly, and on the record.
The truth is, Woolworths can more than afford to curb problem gambling and still profit handsomely from recreational pokie players, alongside all their other business. We frankly expect better of a trusted Australian family brand than to fund a massive and misleading ad campaign against pokie reform. We've already got a 45,000 strong petition of Australians supporting reform to limit problem gambling, and now we will tell Woolworths just how many of their customers, shareholders and employees have signed it.
Thank you for all that you do,
Erin, for the GetUp team
"Woolworths hits the jackpot with pokies after signing deal with Laundy hotel group", Daily Telegraph. November 11, 2011
"Woolworths in pokie grip talks", Sydney Morning Herald. April 18, 2011
"Woolies is poker machine king", Daily Telegraph. November 12, 2011
"Playing pokies just like eating a burger, says Woolies subsidiary", Sydney Morning Herald. February 15, 2011
"Woolworths revealed to own more pokies than the Adelaide Casino", News.com.au. April 16, 2011