Tom Waterhouse is everywhere, from television to newspapers, advertising and form guides. If you’re thinking you’ve seen rather a lot of him, there’s more to come.
Recent reports say that that he has become the new gambling partner of the NRL in a five-year deal worth close to $50 million, paying about five times the existing partnership deal held by TAB Sportsbet. The word is that he will eventually make a similar play for partnership rights to the AFL. In addition, he has reportedly signed a separate $15 million deal with Channel Nine for exclusive ties to this year’s NRL and AFL footy shows, as well as rugby league match broadcasts.
His flamboyant spending comes on top of the $20 million his company is rumoured to spend on advertising each year, including his paid appearances on a variety of news and sports shows. Since launching his gaming website in Kings Cross in October 2010, Waterhouse has become the most recognisable face in sports betting. However, he declined to give any details about his business plans or his dealings with the NRL, his advertising spending or whether his business is turning a profit despite telling the Australian Financial Review last October he was not yet profitable.
Currently he is buying up a share of the sports betting market, a commitment which requires enormously deep pockets. His long-term plan is to break into the wealthy Asian market. Waterhouse’s father, Robbie, says his son will become the country’s premier online bookmaker in the next three years. ‘He’s quite happy to gamble and quite happy to take risks, and he has been very successful at it.’
Waterhouse points out that in 2008, over four days of spring in Melbourne, they could get $500,000 to $600,000 cash off the ground from people betting money. Within one year the money on the ground completely dried up: people had gone to the internet or telephone and so he just went with them.
His online business has attracted more than 150,000 clients at home by creating as many markets as possible, ranging from this year’s Oscars’ winners to the first country to leave the Eurozone. Since the 2008 easing of regulations governing cross-border betting and advertising, sports betting has grown more than 13 per cent a year to about $3.3 billion in Australia, although as yet it’s only a small share of the overall $20 billion bet in racing.
Waterhouse says the softly-softly approach no longer pays off in the sports betting industry, Many of their competitors are out there striving to get the market share and unless people are willing to compete, the overseas people will come in. ‘It’s like a land grab.’
Racing NSW boss, Peter V’Landys, says that Waterhouse’s greatest ability is understanding the tastes and needs of younger punters, who are driving the business online. He compares Waterhouse to a young James Packer, wanting his father and family to be proud of him. ‘Everything we do is a family business,’ Waterhouse says. ‘I speak to my dad, my grandfather every day, multiple times a day, because you need to listen to different points of view and advice.’
In an industry that has seen plenty of unsavoury deals, the Tom Waterhouse brand works hard to be seen as clean cut and wholesome. He says he has no plans to float his business just now. Nor does he have any intention of doing anything but punting. ‘Everyone’s in the game, whether it’s a punter or a bookmaker, you’re in the game to win.’