Westower Tavern, River street, Ballina is facing complaints by Liquor and Gaming authorities. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle
Westower Tavern, River street, Ballina is facing complaints by Liquor and Gaming authorities. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle Alistair Brightman

Pubs at risk after giving free drinks to encourage gambling

A BALLINA tavern is being investigated over claims staff illegally gave free drinks to pokie players to keep them gambling longer.

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (ILGA) will consider a disciplinary complaint alleging that two ALH-run hotels gave the alcohol to gamblers.

Liquor & Gaming NSW (L&GNSW) has lodged the complaint against Westower Tavern at West Ballina and South Tweed Tavern at South Tweed Heads.

Australian Leisure and Hospitality (ALH) is partly owned by supermarket giant Woolworths.

A L&GNSW spokesman said the complaint lodged with ILGA alleged the practice of supplying gaming patrons free alcohol was systemic at both North Coast hotels.

"Under NSW gaming laws, it is illegal to offer or supply free or discounted alcohol to induce gambling," he said.

"ILGA has broad disciplinary powers where it is satisfied that any of the grounds on which the complaint was made apply.

"For hotels that breach gaming laws, penalties include formal reprimands, fines up to $110,000 and suspension or cancellation of licences."

The complaint follows a comprehensive investigation into ALH venues which included inspections of more than 50 NSW hotels, with more focused investigations into four hotels.

The investigation included covert surveillance, coercive interviews of licensees, staff and other witnesses, review of CCTV, and examination of records and systems.

In two cases, where sufficient evidence was obtained, disciplinary complaints have been lodged.

In the other two cases, which involved Sydney metropolitan hotels, there was insufficient evidence to proceed to a formal complaint.

The spokesman said no further comment would be made until ILGA has considered the complaint.

He said it was usual practice for ILGA to publish reasons for decisions once it finalises disciplinary complaint proceedings.