Gambling agencies’ donations to political parties galloping upwards

Australian horse racing industry accused of receiving ‘special treatment’ as governments allow crowds at marquee events

Political donations from gambling agencies that facilitate betting on horse racing have skyrocketed, totalling almost half a million dollars a year, new research shows.

Data shows yearly donations from these gambling companies increased from $9,900 in 2010-11 to $473,161 in 2019-20.

The industry made a total of $2.7m donations in the decade, largely via Tabcorp and Crown Resorts, which owns the online betting company Betfair Australia. The Liberals accepted $1.3m, Labor took $1.1m and the Nationals received $229,000.

The huge increase in donations is captured in data prepared by the parliamentary library for the Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi.

“While more and more Australians are switching off from racing, companies involved in horse betting are donating more and more to the major political parties,” Faruqi said.

“It’s hard to imagine any other industry getting the special treatment that horse racing has received this week in both New South Wales and Victoria, by Liberal and Labor governments alike,” she said, referring to decisions around crowds at the Everest and the Melbourne Cup.

The data includes all ASX-listed gambling companies involved in horse racing, industry bodies and popular specialist betting companies like Sportsbet and Betfair. To ensure a fair time comparison, the research included companies that may have existed at the start of the decade but have since disappeared.

Tabcorp and Crown Resorts were the two major donors identified in the research but donations were also made by Sportsbet, BetEasy and Responsible Wagering Australia. Tabcorp discloses all donations, not just those above the disclosure threshold, which may help explain why it appears so frequently in the publicly available data.

Most states and territories still allow gambling companies to make political donations, save for NSW, which banned the practice in 2010.

The Victorian government has faced significant criticism over its plans to allow 10,000 people to attend the Melbourne Cup in about three weeks’ time, despite the state facing continuing restrictions.

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Racegoers will be asked to prove their vaccination status and the Victorian government may approve other spring racing events, depending on whether the state reaches its 80% full vaccination target.

Guardian Australia has previously reported on the significant level of access granted to the sector by senior NSW ministers.

A Guardian Australia analysis of ministerial diaries between 2014 and 2018 showed the sector’s main industry groups – Racing NSW and the Australian Turf Club – met ministers 39 times.

State politicians declared 67 separate racing-related gifts or interests in the same time period.

Last year the Everest, Australia’s richest horse race, was allowed a crowd of about 11,000 after the NSW government granted it an exemption.

It will be allowed again this year, after the NSW government again provided it an exemption allowing 10,000 people to attend, double the usual number permitted under the state’s Covid-19 restrictions.

The exemption was granted after a plan was presented by the Australian Turf Club for a Covid-safe event.

The government had earlier knocked back a push by the ATC to have 15,000 people and said the restriction of 5,000 would apply.

Tabcorp said it was committed to ensuring strict compliance with political donation laws in Australia and abroad.

“In the interests of transparency, Tabcorp discloses all political contributions made under the annual political engagement program to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and other bodies as required by law, irrespective of whether such contributions are classified by law as a ‘political donation’ or are required to be disclosed,” a spokesperson said.

Crown was approached for comment.


Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp

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