Those nice men from Wesfarmers, sitting in pokies-free Perth, have wilted in the face of a strong campaign over kids in venues and committed to spend millions cleaning up their gambling venues.

The news came through an email late last month from Robert Hadler, the new Coles PR chief who joined earlier this year after heavy battles working for AWB.

Coles was facing a board tilt at its AGM in Perth on November 10 from Paul Bendat, the millionaire proprietor of, whose aggressive tactics even involved a full page ad in the local paper covering Peppermint Grove in Perth’s leafy suburbs.

“Have you seen this man”, the ad screamed above a big picture of Wesfarmers CEO Richard Goyder. “If you do, ask him about Coles’ vast pokie gambling operation.”

The paper was delivered to Goyder’s mansion, along with everyone else in Perth’s most affluent community which lives quite happily with no suburban pokies venues.

Given the influence of South Australia’s no pokies Senator Nick Xenophon, it wasn’t surprising that the Wesfarmers backdown got this big run in The Advertiser, which even spelt out the six specific commitments Coles made.

Now that Wesfarmers has set a pokies standard for Australia’s supermarket duopoly, it will be very interesting to see if Woolworths follows suit.

Woolworths has about 12,000 pokies making it one of the world’s biggest gambling companies and four times larger than Wesfarmers.

The world’s 20th biggest retailer prides itself on being the industry standard bearer in everything it does and CEO Michael Luscombe told the 2007 AGM that the $35 billion company takes its pokies gambling practices “very very very seriously”.

So seriously in fact he declared that the company’s “internal covenant” was to “take a leadership position in the area of problem gaming”.

Funnily enough, Woolworths is presently showing no signs of moving as the clock ticks ahead of its AGM in Sydney on November 26.

Whilst Coles has also flagged to The AFR that it is considering selling part of its pubs/pokies operations, Woolworths is ploughing on.

The AFR yesterday reported that it had spent $19 million buying the St Albans Hotel in Melbourne’s western suburbs and Woolies executive Ross Blair-Holt declared the company would “work our magic out there”.

St Albans, of course, is one of Melbourne’s poorest suburbs and this “magic” partly comprises getting low income people to lose an even greater proportion of their negligible net worth playing on the 50 pokies at the venue.

Senator Xenophon is certainly sharpening his focus on the Woolies board, which continues to out-source the management of its pokies division to colourful Melbourne billionaire and former Alan Bond business partner Bruce Mathieson, along with his long-serving deputy Ross Blair-Holt.

The Senator’s home page includes a big picture of Woolies with the words “fresh food” crossed out and replaced by “pokies”. However, he’s gone a step further and is soliciting for the required 100 shareholder signatures to get this S249P statement of up to 1000 words distributed to the company’s 300,000-plus shareholders with the notice of meeting for the AGM.

Woolies will also be facing contested board elections at the AGM and with Senator Xenophon planning to attend, it will very interesting to hear chairman James Strong explain why they can’t match the Wesfarmers commitment.