Is the Woolworth’s Monty Card Ethical?

Is it a gift to feed patrons' children, or is it a lure to feed the gambling habits of their parents? That's the issue under debate as Australian anti-gambling advocates and one of the Land Down Under's largest supermarket chains do battle over a gift card.

The card in question is called Monty's Reward Card and it will be introduced this December as one of the “perks” enjoyed by patrons of the 330 Australian pubs and hotels owned by supermarket titan Woolworths. The “Monty Card” will allow children to eat for free within these Woolworths establishments, as well as allowing adult patrons to order drinks from the bar without actually going to the bar.

And what's keeping these adults from getting themselves to and ordering from the bar? Well, they may be too busy playing the pokies machines that are located at all but one of these Woolworths establishments. And there, claim anti-gambling activists, lies the crux of the problem. These groups claim that the Monty card creates a three prong issue. They claim that this card:
• monitors guests' spending habits at gambling machines, enabling the company to influence it
• exposes underaged children to gambling
• offers an excuse to problem gamblers to patronize establishments where gambling is offered

Woolworths hotel and pub properties are managed by the AHL Group, which insists that there's nothing sinister or manipulative about the Monty Card. It's just another business “loyalty card” to provide customers with incentives to stick with a certain brand. But anti-gambling activist Paul Bendat not only objects to the issuance of this card, but where this meal and drink card is honored. Bendat points out that card must be used in dining areas in close proximity to the pokies machines. He says that this proximity not only provides a good excuse for adults to gamble away family meal time. It also introduces their children to “playing the pokies” at a young and impressionable age, and could plant the seeds for a lifetime of problem gambling.

The AHL's placing of these machines in “family friendly” dining areas seems to fly in the face of a promise it made to the Victorian government to keep gambling areas separated from children's play zones and family dining areas. An official statement on the matter issued by the franchise insists that young visitors are not allowed in or near adult gambling areas. The card's true intentions are being debated by politicians as well, with Victorian gaming ministerJane Garrett insisting that sometimes a loyalty card is just a loyalty card, and senator Mark Xenophon claiming that the card is “essentially a Trojan Horse for more addiction”.

Despite the debate, AHL has not shelved plans to roll out the Monty Card. They will be introducing the card at their locations in Victoria and Queensland just in time for the holidays.