Here’s an example of what Kevin Rudd could call “extreme capitalism”.
On Friday night, the Victorian Government has commendably released the pokies losses figures for all venues over the past three years.
We know that Woolworths is the 22nd biggest retailer in the world and has mastered the art of cornering key segments of the Australian market, whether it be groceries, grog, petrol, fresh fruit, tobacco or pokies.
But who would ever have thought it would be so efficient at exploiting Victorian pokies addicts in working class suburbs? The figures revealed the 20 most lucrative Victorian pokies venues ripped $926 million out of pokies players in the three years to 30 June, 2008, and Woolworths snaffled a staggering $736 million or 79.5%.
Last October, Crikey asked how Woolworths manages to avoid media mentions when it comes to the damage caused by its vast Australian pokies empire.
The Saturday papers were another classic example. The Age produced this page one story focusing on the $60 million lost at the Skyways Taverner hotel, Victoria’s most lucrative.
Surely the owner of such a venue is a relevant fact? By failing to name Woolworths, Fairfax simply reinforces the impression it is protecting its largest advertiser and also covering for its prominent director Roger Corbett, the former Woolies CEO who drove the aggressive push into pokies.
Whilst the Herald Sun did manage to inject the word Woolworths once into its Saturday story, the paper predictably focused most of the attention on billionaire pokies mogul Bruce Mathieson, who is the minority 25% partner in the Woolies joint venture.
This pandering to a major advertiser doesn’t just happen with Rupert Murdoch’s biggest selling Australian paper.
The City of Manningham has arguably the heaviest concentration of Woolworths pokies venues in the state and featured twice in the top ten losers list through The Shoppingtown Hotel and The Doncaster Inn.
When a Woolworths supermarket manager turned up to speak at our Australian Day function courtesy of the company’s $100,000 sponsorship of celebrations across the state, two councillors complained about it at the next council meeting.
I got up and said it was hypocritical of the manager to talk about all the good Woolies does in our community when the company controls a majority of the pokies in our community.
The Manningham Leader, our local weekly Murdoch giveaway, chose not to report any of this, but the next edition featured a colour advertisement for The Shoppingtown Hotel all over the back page.
The most recent edition of The Manningham Leader features another full page ad for Woolworths calling for community groups to apply for $5000 grants that will “help primary school aged children lead healthier more active grants”.
Given that Australians are the world’s biggest gambling losers in per capita terms, it really is time Woolies was forced to defend its position. How can it keep spouting all this talk about community benefit, whilst brutally operating the world’s most lethal poker machines?
*The author is on Manningham Council which is currently reviewing its pokies policy.