2023 Shortlist

Betting on a winner

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Australia

Publishing organisation: ABC News

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-05-22

Language: English

Authors: By Inga Ting, Anna Freeland, Michael Workman, Katia Shatoba and Alex Palmer


Inga Ting (data journalist), Alex Palmer (designer), Katia Shatoba (developer) and Michael Workman (researcher) are part of ABC New’s Digital Story Innovations team.
Anna Freeland (researcher) is a digital/data journalist with ABC Arts who joined the DSI team for this project.

Project description:

This was the third and final story in our three-part investigation into the political donations that link Australia’s gambling industry and Australia’s political parties.

It combined sophisticated data mining techniques with meticulous research and shoe-leather reporting to examine, in unprecedented detail, the money flowing from the gambling industry into the political system.

Impact reached:

This exclusive series provided clear evidence of the monetary ties between the gambling industry and Australia’s political parties at a time of intense public scrutiny of the gambling sector’s links to money laundering and organised crime.

It renewed calls for greater transparency and accountability of Australia’s federal political donations laws and gave impetus to the introduction of two separate bills for political donations reform at the federal level.

Techniques/technologies used:

At the heart of the project is our gambling payments database, which brings together, for the first time, the political donations registers for every state and territory.

Our “master dataset” combined and then expanded on datasets used in previous research. We uncovered dozens of new gambling entities by undertaking forensic examination of company records, annual reports, media archives, financial statements, etc. and consulting extensively with researchers, gambling reform groups, and other experts.

Many of these individuals and organisations have been excluded from previous analyses because they own or operate gambling ventures alongside other business or political interests.

From here, we built our database by:

  1. Matching our gambling client list with 22 years of data and metadata scraped from the AEC Transparency Register.
  2. Combing through hundreds of PDF scans of original disclosure forms on the AEC website, manually collecting additional payment details missed or excluded from the online database.
  3. Matching the master list with records extracted from each of the seven state and territory political donations registers, some of which had to be collated by hand from PDFs.

This data-driven approach allowed us to examine the interconnected money trails for hundreds of gambling-related donors, and to uncover vital clues about the pattern, timing and purpose of payments. The result is the most comprehensive and detailed record to date of payments made by the gambling industry to Australia’s political parties.

Context about the project:

Unlike most countries, Australia’s gambling industry extends far beyond lotteries and casinos. This is one of the reasons the industry’s political influence is so difficult to quantify.

Our project adopted a new approach to this problem, expanding on previous analyses to trace political payments from more than 370 gambling-related businesses and individuals over 22 years.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

This story demonstrates that you don’t need perfect or complete data to produce a powerful data-driven investigation.

Our project was the first to analyse gambling donations in the political donations registers for every state and territory. While the incompleteness of these databases made this a frustrating exercise, it also demonstrated a key point: that Australia’s system for ensuring transparency and accountability of political donations falls far short of this goal — which is precisely why it deserves to be the focus of media investigation.

Project links: