Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns has thumbed down proposals for the company to introduce AU$1 bet limits on poker machines.
Cairns found himself on the hot seat during the company’s annual general meeting on Thursday as he fended off anti-gambling shareholders’ attacks against the Australian-listed firm’s poker machine operations.
The Guardian reported that Cairns raised his eyebrows over anti-gambling advocates’ claims that problem gambling is caused by the company’s imposition of higher bets on its pokie machines.
When asked whether Woolsworth would follow the footstep of its rival grocery giant and hotels operator Coles in placing AU$1 bet limits on poker machines, Cairns told shareholders that “there is no empirical evidence that will improve the incidences of problem gambling.”
Cairns then reminded the company’s shareholders that Woolsworth was the pioneer in voluntary pre-commitment system. This system, according to Cairns, permits players to place a maximum spend or time limit on a poker machine.
“We are the most responsible operator of gaming machines in Australia and we will have that validated by a recognized world authority from Canada that is coming down to audit us,” Cairns said.
Confronted by a former gambling during the stakeholders’ meeting, Cairns contends that the company has always been committed in ensuring that problem gamblers and players are always taken care of.
“The majority of people who use our facilities come there and have an enjoyable time,” he said. “A minority of people have a problem and we have to address both.”
Woolsworth is considered to be Australia’s largest poker machine operators through its majority ownership stake in Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which operates more than 330 hotels.
Government data shows Woolworths has collected over a quarter of its pokies revenue from Victorian gamblers. Woolworths’ annual pokies revenue in Victoria grew to AU$669 million (US$509.12 million) in the 2015-16 financial year.
Earlier this year, the Supermarket giant is pushing for an even greater share of Victoria’s pokies market after receiving record revenue from the machines.
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