With the massive battle over poker machine reform that’s been waged over the past two years in Australia, everyone knew that the clubs and pokies industry had to have spent plenty on lobbying efforts and campaign donations. But until now, nobody knew just how much cash they chipped in to their favourite parties and politicians.
Politicians Biggest Pokie Winners
According to figures released by the Australian Election Commission this week, it adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that went to the major parties from the pokies industry in the lead-up to the modest poker machine reforms that were passed by Parliament in 2012 and the 2013 federal elections. The vast majority of that money went to the federal coalition, which opposed the pokies reforms.
“No business hands over that sort of money without expecting something in return,” said leading anti-gambling advocate and Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie. “Frankly, they should all hang their heads in shame.”
The biggest donations came from the Australian Hotels and Hospitality Association, which gave the Liberal and National parties – which opposed the gambling reforms — $422,320. In contrast, they gave Labor just $22,700.
Some groups spread their money around a little more evenly, perhaps sensing that Labor was reluctantly supporting pokies reform in order to keep the Gillard government’s coalition intact. Clubs NSW gave $205,110 to the coalition parties, while handing over $121,200 to Labor. Woolworths – which is the largest operator of poker machines in all of Australia – gave $64,935 to coalition parties and $50,950 to Labor. Their subsidiary that operates pokies directly – Australian Leisure and Hospitality – chipped in another $30,376 to the Liberal Party.
Though not directly impacted by the pokies reforms, casino operator Crown Limited also donated to both major parties, giving the Liberals $86,428 and Labor $42,650.
However, the true extent of these donations many never be known – and other donations won’t be revealed for a year or more. That’s due to the fact that information about large political donations is not released until as much as 19 months after those donations take place. For instance, campaign donations made between July and September 2013 won’t be revealed by the AEC until February 2015.
Meanwhile, only donations exceeding $12,400 are published, while smaller contributions can essentially be made anonymously. That number may not seem exceptionally large until you consider that the state, territory and federal organizations from each party are considered separate entities. Thus, a company could give up to that amount to each of those branches of a party – nine in total – and donate well over $100,000 without the party having to disclose who gave them that cash.
In 2012, the federal government passed a number of wide-ranging but modest poker machine reforms. They included limits on how much could be withdrawn from ATMs at venues that hosted pokies; the eventual rollout of voluntary pre-commitment technology; and a trial of mandatory pre-commitment technology in the ACT. The issue was given importance as it was critical to the Gillard government, which secured the support of MP Wilkie by promising to take action on pokies reform.
However, the Abbott government opposes these reforms, and passed bills in December to repeal the changes made under the Gillard government.