Anti-gambling crusader Reverend Tim Costello describes Woolworths’ move to spin off its pokies as a “half-win”, and says if the retail giant wants to make an ethical stand, it should forgo the income altogether.

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci announced plans on July 2 to merge the company’s Dan Murphy’s and BWS bottle shops, and its pubs and pokie machine business ALH Group, with its Endeavour Drinks business by the end of the year. 

It will then separate the new standalone Endeavour Group but did not say whether it planned to sell or list the new business. 

Either way, it expects to retain a minority shareholding.

Speaking with Bill Crews on Sydney’s 2GB, Rev Costello slammed Woolworths for not making a clean break and “sucking up the financial losses”.

“[Companies] say they want to be corporately, socially responsible, we want to do good for the community,” said the Baptist minister. “Well Woolies, you say that too, all the time. Here’s a big chance .. stop the damage and suck up the financial loss.”

Woolworths’ majority-owned ALH Group is currently the biggest pokie supplier in Australia, a country that has almost 20 per cent of the world’s pokies – but just 0.3 per cent of its population.

Banducci admitted the move had been in part to improve “brand clarity” as just “The Fresh Food People”.

Rev Costello agreed that Woolworths, often labelled “The Pokies People”, were shamed into making the move.

“[There was] pubic pressure saying we’re shocked and we know the damage [of pokies] and get out,” he said.

“This is broken marriages, this is suicides.. the shame, this is people stealing to feed their addiction and going to jail.

“The damage [of pokies] is huge.”

For the latest retail industry news and insights straight to your mailbox sign up to RetailBiz’ weekly newsletter. If you have any news or feature tips or know a retail who would make a good retail profile please email Georgia Clark at