He is a relative newcomer to the sports betting industry and yet somehow Tom Waterhouse has found himself the figurehead of a movement against gambling in Australia.
How did it get to this point? Why have so many people turned on Tom Waterhouse? Where did he go wrong?
Tom Waterhouse is a 30 year old from Sydney that comes from a family considered to be “racing royalty”. One side of his family tree coming from high profile Sydney based horse trainers, the other half comes from high profile Sydney based bookies. When Tom Waterhouse says betting is in his blood, he really means it. He grew up watching how the racing industry worked, how it was funded, who won and who lost.
Tom Waterhouse decision to become a bookmaker is not a surprise.
When Tom Waterhouse started to promote his gambling business it was a pretty good start. In a long list of corporate bookmakers Tom Waterhouse already had a brand that stood out. You can talk about the odds various bookmakers offer all you like, but based purely on brand recognition, Waterhouse got his business right from the start.
You see, most sports bookmakers are faceless entities. To someone that bets on sport they like to deal which what feels like a big faceless company they can win money off of. These is no relationship built between the sports gambler and the bookmaker he decides to bet through.
Now imagine you are Tom Waterhouse. He grew up watching how his family of horse racing bookmakers operated. He saw them dealing with punters face to face. He saw the relationships they built at the race track. He saw the same faces coming back, even after doing their money cold, reaching into their pockets to put another bet on with their faithful old bookie.
I have no doubt that stuck with Tom Waterhouse, and it was probably a large part of his vision when he decided to build his sports bookmaking empire.
The suited silhouette ended up being his easily recognizable logo. It is easy to say the silhouette is of Tom himself, but I wonder if it is more the image burned into a young mind standing back and watching the punters at a race track hand over money to his father and grandfather. By trading on his famous name, he immediately made himself different from all the other sports betting agencies. Anyone that has played a bet in Australia know’s who the Waterhouse’s are. How could he not trade on such a famous name?
About 2 years ago Tom Waterhouse started spending up big on slick advertising campaigns. He then made the decision to front these campaigns himself.
Gone was the suited silhouette and in its place was Tom himself, telling punters that he didn’t know how sportsman did what they did, but he knew gambling, and so you should bet with him.
Once again, it was a marketing idea that worked. Yes it was easy to take the piss out of, but you and I both know the adverts I am talking about. They stood out from other sports bookmakers.
The traditional go to sports bookmaker of the average punter, TAB Sports Bet, looked to change their marketing strategy in turn. Up until that point TAB Sports Bet was the faceless corporate bookmaker whose only figurehead was Glenn Munsie. Munsie would be seen on TV and heard on the radio from time to time giving the odds available at TAB Sports Bet, but there was a clear line in the sand in the way he presented himself and the company he represented to the gambling public.
Munsie told you the better odds, and that was that.
When Tom Waterhouse entered the market, he tried to personalize the relationship between his company, represented by himself, and the gambling public. There is no doubt this had an effect on TAB Sports Bet. These days instead of a simple graphic with a voice over, TAB Sports Bet offers us faces to personalize the company in Matt Jenkins and the lovely Jaimee Rogers. It was a smart move, one that worked a treat. However there was still a line that was very clear to see. They were offering odds on sports betting, and that was it! Sure they now came with big smiles and a face you could remember, but they were still a big sports bookmaker.
When Tom Waterhouse made his move into Rugby League and Channel 9′s coverage this year, that line wasn’t so clear. Sure Waterhouse offered odds on game, but he also started to tell us about how teams play and followed it up by offering YOU some good odds you can win some money on. This eventually saw him stepping into the role of pre-game sideline commentator before Channel 9 broadcasts. He would talk about both teams in some depth, then offer you to bet with his service. It was a far cry from the bookmaker that offered you odds on sport he supposedly knew nothing about.
You see, the hardcore sports gamblers see through the bullshit. They know the relationship they have with bookmakers, even if many of them are incapable of breaking that relationship when it start to effect their lives a little too much. The hardcore sports gamblers know that the bookmakers play a game based purely on statistics. There is no relationship there. They offer a service. That is it. You step in and play the game at your own risk. So they don’t get drawn into faces on TV trying to establish a relationship.
The general public, the mug punter that just wants to throw a few dollars on a result from time to time, they can be influenced by marketing, but they can also get sick of it. Eventually they too just want to see some juicy odds on their screen that will make them decide to have the occasional punt on the footy, so all the other stuff starts to piss them off.
Then you have the vast majority of people that don’t bet on sports. They will look past a bit of adverting by bookmakers, after all, they know it pays the bills for sporting clubs and broadcasters. However when it starts to get a little bit too much, the general non gambling public will quickly become pissed off. They have no interest in gambling to begin with, so to have commentators head down to the sidelines to ask Tom Waterhouse what he thinks about the game just infuriates them!
Tom Waterhouse’s marketing strategy gave him a point of difference early on from the big corporate bookmakers, but it also had an effect on peoples opinions about sports gambling. It gave people someone they could now use as a figure head and a name they could say when it came to voicing a sentiment against gambling advertising in sports.
When people get angry they need a bad guy. They need someone they can blame for what ever their perceived problem is. When it came to the backlash against the bombardment of sports betting advertising during Rugby League broadcasts Tom Waterhouse stepped up to the plate before, during and after every single game broadcast on Channel 9 in 2013.
Take it from someone that knows, with a web site that is my name, and that revolves completely around my personality if you put yourself out there as an individual, you better be ready to take some heat. There is always someone that will want to hate you for some reason.
The cult of personality works both ways, and by making himself a personality in the world of corporate sports bookmakers, Tom Waterhouse become the easy target for the wrath of punters and non punters alike. It saw him being asked to front a gambling committee set up by Federal Parliament into sports betting, this young man from Sydney was all of a sudden one of the leading voices in the industry.
The backlash against Tom Waterhouse went into full swing. He is THE name used by anyone that wants to speak out against sports betting. Channel 9 was forced to change the way they incorporated Waterhouse into their coverage and just this week the NRL, almost with a sense of relief, announce that a proposed deal between themselves and Waterhouse had broken down.
So where did Tom Waterhouse go wrong?
Go wrong? Are you kidding me? Tom Waterhouse now runs a company that is valued by some in the hundreds of millions of dollars. He is one of the highest profile faces in the gambling industry. He could sell up tomorrow and walk away from it all, into the sunset, a suited silhouette carrying a bag full of money so large that he could live a dozen lifetimes without ever having to work again.
Tom Waterhouse set out to become a big time sports bookmaker and he has done it. He is there. He has won.
I’m not against gambling on sports, I used to gamble on sports a bit myself. I have sports bookmakers that occasionally sponsor this web site. While I don’t think we should be getting odds before, during and after games, or having them shown during every single sports related show, I don’t for a second think we should ban sports gambling. Yes I would like to see the number of options available scaled back, but once governments let the gambling genie out of the bottle they are reluctant to put them, and the massive revenue they generate for governments back in.
The relationship between sports bookmakers and punters is an interesting one. One I think you need to stand back and look at from a distance to truly appreciate. One thing I do know is that for all the perceived backlash against Tom Waterhouse, people are still going to him every day to hand their money over and play the odds.
There is only one way that will every change. Don’t expect it to though, some punters just cant help themselves!
Note: I was not paid a cent by any bookmaker to write this article.