A pub and licensee in Sydney’s south have been fined and penalised for failing to limit free drinks to a man on a gambling binge.
Complaints lodged by Liquor & Gaming NSW against the venue relate to the service of a 49-year-old male patron at the venue between approximately 10am and 9pm on 13 February, 2019.
Documents relay that the man arrived at the Hotel at 10:09am and withdrew $1,000 in cash. He played a machine until 10:23am, losing the $1000. He then left and returned home.
He arrived back at the Hotel at 11:49am with an additional $2,000 in cash and resumed playing the same machine, depositing $900 (11:59am), $500 (12:14pm) and finally $600 (at 12:44pm). No further amounts were deposited.
Throughout his more than nine hours playing, he had a large number of wins – many of which were greater than his accumulated losses on the day; $3626 (12:29pm), $3616 (2:29pm), $2642 (3:29pm), $3352 (4:29pm), $5778 (6:44pm) and $2378 (8:29pm).
In total he recorded wins of $70,895 in total turnover of $73,895, resulting in a net loss of $3,000.
The hotel’s customer service practices involved discounts and freebies on items including from the bar, kitchen or bottleshop specials, and these, recorded under a promotional tab, generally represented about two per cent of food and drink turnover each day.
On the day in question three staff members supplied the man with free alcoholic drinks as part of this program. His extended stay resulted in workers either side of a shift change continuing the practise. He was given schooners of beer at around 2:41pm, 3:01pm, 3:18pm, 3:40pm, 4:50pm, 5:20pm, 6:09pm, 7:19pm, 8:19pm and 8:44pm.
Significantly, his first alcoholic drink was supplied more than two hours after he made his last cash deposit, and analysis of CCTV footage did not indicate any clear signs of intoxication.
According to witnesses, the man’s spouse entered the venue shortly before 9pm, and following a heated exchange, the pair left the premises.
The man subsequently made complaints to the regulator, centred on his being supplied with 10 complimentary beers over a six-hour period.
“It got to the stage where I was more focused on getting the free drinks than winning,” the man said in his affidavit.
Under the Gaming Machines Regulation 2010 in NSW, it is illegal to offer or supply free or discounted alcohol as an inducement to play gaming machines in a hotel.
The Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (ILGA) handed down its decision last week, finding the man’s early wins on the machine were likely a factor fuelling his gambling on the day – but unable to discount the role played by a “substantial supply of free liquor”.
ILGA found the licensee “engaged in conduct that encouraged or is likely to encourage the misuse and abuse of gambling activities” and noted that staff supplying the free liquor should perhaps have noticed the patron was only interested in the gaming machines.
It cited how the staff had “well-understood discretion” to supply free alcohol to gaming machine players, but that the venue did not have adequate controls or checks to limit the ‘reasonable’ number of drinks served.
The licensee was fined $4400 and ordered to pay the Secretary $19,291.85 to cover the cost of investigation. The pub also had its authority to operate gaming machines suspended for a week, commencing 17 May, which will likely cost it another $60k.
“The authority considers that a seven-day suspension of hotel’s authorisation or approval to keep approved gaming machines is necessary to mark to other licensees and those in the industry, and to the public, the seriousness of the conduct the subject of this decision,” came the decision.
The licensee and group that own the hotel report the customer service systems no longer involve providing complimentary alcoholic drinks, and they have engaged an advisor on programs to assist staff identify problem gambling.