Independent Federal members Andrew Wilkie and Rebekha Sharkie began calling for reform to Australia’s gambling laws in October last year. 

 The proposed Bill would require that gambling companies report to Austrack if they believe “a person is paying for a gambling service with money they obtained illegally,” according to Mr Wilkie’s parliamentary speech. 

Under the Bill, gambling companies could also be required to compensate victims from whom the money was originally stolen. 

 Australians lose roughly $24.5billion to gambling annually. Though it is unknown how much of this money is laundered, the Australian Gambling Research Centre found 79% of survey participants were at risk of gambling-related harm. 

 Addicted gamblers say companies like Tabcorp, Ladbrokes and BetEasy encourage laundered money to be used in venues. Rewards for big transactions include sport tickets and shopping discounts. 

 Ex-gambler Gavin Fineff, who was quoted in Parliament by Mr Wilkie, said, “The fact is, I lost $8.4m in less than 4 years and most of it was other people’s money. It belonged to 33 beautiful people.. it was all used without their consent or knowledge.”

 It was only after an almost $4m loss that Tabcorp questioned Mr Fineff’s income. Even then, he could still freely access other gambling sites. 

Pokies in major venues are regularly played with little moderation. Image: Lucinda Garbutt-Young

Those who have raised the Bill believe it is time for drastic change. 

 “I just don’t think these companies can continue to take money through the door without questioning it,” Independent Member for Mayo Ms Sharkie said. “We’re talking about billions of dollars being lost and its money that gets stolen from our whole community.”

 But the Federal government has been reluctant to respond. 

 “The challenge we’ve had around raising new gambling [policies] is that there has been very little interest from any major party,” Ms Sharkie said. 

 It is possible that Parliament’s silence on the reformed Bill, which has not been revisited since its second reading in October 2020, may be connected to political donations. 

 This year it was revealed that in 2020, some combined $91,000 was donated to both major parties by Tabcorp, with $82,500 donated by BetEasy and SportsBet. Crown Resorts and associated companies, who came under legal scrutiny last year, donated almost $100,000. 

This discovery has come at the same time as continued debate over the sore online gambling and Crown Casino concerns.

If gambling companies lost significant amounts of laundered money, party donations could be compromised. 

 “We’re talking [about] the best part of 2 million dollars [in donations],” Ms Sharkie said. 

 And she believes that lack of action puts the entire community at risk. There are currently 6.8 million regular gamblers in the country. This means 39% of the population could benefit from increased protection. 

 “More broadly, I don’t think there’s an Australian household who is not touched in some way by gambling.”

– Story and photographs by Lucinda Garbutt-Young

If you or someone you know is experiencing gambling harm, please contact: Gamblers Helpline 1800 858 858