Australians lost $23.6 billion gambling in 2015-16 and with annual losses rising at about $1 billion a year, the figure in 2018 is likely to reach $26 billion.

With the world’s worst per capita losses of $1000 a head, that’s an awful lot of largesse for the industry to spread around and we’ve seen it again this year in recently released 2016-17 political donations data. Gambling industry entities donated close to $2 million for the year.

There were no less than 20 separate gambling industry donations to the Federal ALP in 2016-17 totalling $330,650 with the major players being as follows:

  • Australian Hotels Association (whose biggest member is Woolworths): $93,500
  • Responsible Wagering Australia (Stephen Conroy’s mob) : $55,000
  • Clubs NSW: $34,000
  • Tabcorp: $33,000
  • Sportsbet: $33,000
  • Australian Wagering Council: $27,500
  • Echo Entertainment: $27,500
  • Crown: $10,000
  • Bet365: $2200

However, full marks to the Federal ALP for voluntarily dropping their 2016-17 disclosure threshold from the $13,200 legal requirement to just $1000. This means we got visibility over 96.47% of their revenue, or $32.1 million of the $32.3 million it received.

The Queensland ALP was similarly transparent but the NSW division – which is notoriously captured by the pokies industry – opted for the $13,200 threshold creating a secretive veil over $2.8 million of its $8.24 million of declared revenue in 2016-17.

Other state divisions were even worse across the parties, with the Tasmanian Liberals only revealing the source of 20.8% of their revenue – $498,000 out of $2.39 million – and the South Australian Labor Party only disclosing $345,654 of the $2.1 million it received.

As Tasmanian and South Australian voters contemplate whether to take the leap and elect new governments led by vehemently anti-pokies leaders in Rebecca White and Nick Xenophon, they will get little visibility into how much industry money is spent on the campaigns.

Tim Costello, lead spokesman for The Alliance for Gambling Reform, today said he believed the gambling industry was the largest participant in the “dark money” section of the major party funding because Australia’s fragmented pubs and clubs industry have mastered the art of political influence.

“The tobacco industry is dominated by multi-nationals like Phillip Morris and British America Tobacco and the two big parties have voluntarily banned their donations anyway,” Mr Costello told Crikey. “This partly explains why we have the lowest smoking rates in the world.”

“But there are 5000 pokies venues across Australia and hundreds of them play the political influence game by attending fund raisers – the board of a club books a $10,000 table at a fundraiser, the club pays and away you go with no disclosure to anyone.”

The Packer family were the biggest gambling industry players to contribute in 2016-17 with James Packer’s mother Ros donating $500,000 to the Federal Liberal Party, and Crown Resorts splashing another $210,000 across the various divisions.

At the recent 2017 Crown Resorts AGM, Packer, after some cajoling by yours truly, noted that he would like to see a zero donation policy in place.

The figures released today are so old that James Packer is not being a hypocrite as we might see the zero donation policy in play on February 1 next year, when we’ll finally get the 2017-18 figures.

*Stephen Mayne is part-time communications adviser at The Alliance for Gambling Reform.