Slots

How one family is buying up thousands of hotel poker machines

The family retains the largest stake in the company, which also has a 15.1 percent share in the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (Woolworths, which demerged its pokies and liquor shop operations last year, retains a 14.6 percent stake).

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In total, Endeavor and ALH have 4790 entitlements (35 percent) of Victoria’s 13,686 hotel poker machines.

Jodi Grollo and her husband Gianni Grollo own Pubco, which has 10 pubs and 467 poker machines.

The family’s combined interests far exceed the 35 percent ownership cap set by the Victorian gambling commission.

It limits gaming machine entitlements to 35 percent for any single license holder, or a total of 35 percent between license holders that have a “prescribed connection”.

People with business connections to those with poker machine licenses can be deemed to be “prescribed connections” and barred from exceeding the cap, but the commission ruled that the various members of the Mathieson family do not fit this definition.

The commission decided there was no such connection between the family members when they applied for their licenses and deemed the situation permissible under the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 and Gambling Regulations 2015.

“This matter has been examined by the VGCCC [Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission]. If new information comes to light it will be referred to the VGCCC for their consideration of whether any regulatory action is required,” a state government spokeswoman said.

Tim Costello is the chief advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform.

Tim Costello, the chief lawyer for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said the Mathieson family’s vast poker machine holdings were the result of a “failure of regulation”.

“Technically, you can say ‘well, they’re independent, different family members’. It’s a family business, that’s the most aggressive pokies operator that dominates the market in Victoria,” he said.

Associate Professor Charles Livingstone, head of the Gambling and Social Determinants Unit at Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, said limited poker machine ownership was designed to prevent companies strategically deploying machines in particular areas of disadvantage.

Each poker machine can typically make a profit of $120,000 annually, he said, with a turnover 10 times that.

“If you want to reduce the propensity for exploitation, then breaking up these sorts of large operators is probably a good idea. Losses from poker machines come from people who have an addiction, or are well on the way to getting one,” Livingstone said.

The Sunday Age revealed Victorians have lost $66 billion in the 30 years since electronic slot machines were introduced in the state.

Livingstone and Costello are calling on the Victorian government to follow Tasmania in introducing a mandatory card-based betting scheme that stops gamblers spending more than $100 a day, $500 a month and $5000 a year on the pokies.

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Victoria has a similar system in place at Crown Casino, but the scheme is voluntary in pubs and clubs.

“It could happen overnight if they wanted it to,” Livingstone said.

A Victorian government spokeswoman said there had been significant reforms introduced following last year’s royal commission into Crown casino.

“Limits can be set on how much patrons spend, and patrons are able to track the time and money they are spending via mandatory pre-commitment on all electronic gaming machines at the casino,” she said.

Costello said the Tasmanian reforms would also discourage criminals from using poker machines to launder money as the cards would force them to register their identity.

“The tide has turned pokies absolutely on the nose. It’s fair [Premier] Dan Andrews, and, sadly, the regulator who haven’t caught up with what the public is actually demanding,” he said.

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