An investigation has been launched into allegations that a pub owner has been offering free drinks and weekly cash handouts up to $1,050 to habitual pokies players.
The allegations emerged after two pokie players and a former employee of the Marlow Hotel Group, the owner of several Sydney bars, claimed that the venues gave perks to problem gamblers to encourage them to keep playing.
NSW legislation states that prizes and promotions linked to for pokies are only permitted if they are valued below $1,000 and are not redeemable for cash. The accusers shared that dedicated punters were offered private reward cards with $150 daily credit that could be withdrawn as cash or used to purchase food and cigarettes.
The daily allowance was reportedly made up of three $50 amounts that players could use at three venues, namely, The Bank Tavern in Kogarah, Intersection Hotel in Ramsgate, and the Royal Hotel in Carlton.
Facing the Music
The Marlow Hotel Group, which owns the three aforementioned venues, responded to the allegations via a statement from its Managing Director, Jason Marlow, who explained that the cards in question were not offered or operational anymore. Marlow said in a media interview, “the loyalty program is not in existence, it was abandoned more than three years ago in 2019.”
The probe into whether any laws were breached is being conducted by Liquor and Gaming NSW which heard that the incentives were offered to around 15 to 20 players per venue.
The former employee had stated that those who spent more were given a lot of free drinks and meals, “that was just run off as wastage or promotion/miscellaneous on the books,” and added that it had been hard to watch players gamble away their money, with many losing up to $1000 per session.
The former Marlow Group worker spoke about a situation that they found particularly upsetting.
“A woman came in who inherited a nice house on a corner block in Kogarah. It was probably worth more than $1 million. She sold the house and three years later she was broke because she gambled everything,” he recalled.
He added that the scheme has been a relatively open secret at the pubs, with all parties involved being heavily invested in keeping it as concealed as possible.
Flouting the Law
Further details emerged, including that players who had previously requested self-exclusion, were allowed into the Carlton pub and now Liquor and Gaming NSW has stated its intent to uncover whether the rewards offered run afoul of the Gaming Machines Act.
The regulator sought to clarify the issue in an official statement that read,
“In some circumstances, venues can operate a rewards scheme whereby gaming machine players can gain points to be redeemed for promotional prizes valued at less than $1,000. Liquor and Gaming NSW regularly monitors venues’ rewards schemes to ensure they are lawful and do not increase risks of gambling-related harm.”
Liquor and Gaming NSW added that venues are not allowed to offer alcohol as an inducement to gamble or to encourage more frequent gambling.
The Marlow Hotel Group has previously found itself in hot water for similar allegations, with its Parramatta Rose and Crown Hotel being fined $107,358 in February 2022, after it came to light that money from the venue was loaned to gamblers and that free alcohol and cigarettes were given as inducements.