It was the last straw: John Singleton bellowing in the mounting yard at Royal Randwick, angry that a brothel owner, an ex-jockey and a football great knew more about his crook horse than he did.
The claims led to a Racing New South Wales inquiry, which – while eventually clearing the most recognisable bookmaker in Australia of any wrongdoing – was the final blow.
Publicity, and lots of it, was always central to Tom Waterhouse’s business plan. But it’s come at a cost.
While the high-tide mark on the controversy surrounding live odd advertisements during sports broadcasts has been reached, it’s seen the 30-year-old cop a public savaging. In the eyes of many, his marketing strategy – scattering advertisements for live betting odds during game play, often delivered by him direct to camera – crossed a line.
The issue especially angered many parents anxious about the impact of the promotions on children watching their favourite teams or sporting heroes.
Australia’s Prime Minister was drawn in, as was Sportingbet boss Michael Sullivan, who accused his rival of making him “sick in the guts.”
Senior television executives, columnists, twitter hacks and eventually his mum became involved – and it culminated in a public apology, splashed on the front page of The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
But as the public anger fades with the passing of the news cycle, Waterhouse retains one thing: his brand is a household name.
“In terms of market awareness… we might have a high share. But the problem is we have come to market late. We only started advertising in 2011,” Waterhouse told Business Insider.
“In two years – yeah we have a well-known brand – but in terms of our competitors: They have had ten, twelve years jump on us,” he said.
Marketing is essential for TomWaterhouse.com. The corporate bookmaker is competing against the listed rival Tabcorp, which has a monopoly on retail gaming, and the internationally-owned, far bigger sportsbet.com.au and sportingbet.com.au.
“They [the TAB] are already at critical mass when it comes to their customer base, which allows them to keep funding their growth, in terms of technology and internal resources,” Waterhouse said.
Public awareness is also essential to the expansion plans for the business Waterhouse has grown from its humble beginnings, to an Australian-owned company that employs around 100 people.
“We have to get market share quickly, which we are aiming to do, and then use that market share to find revenues for the business which can then be put to spending to improve our technology platforms.
“We might have high awareness but we still don’t have enough of the market to go offshore.
“If you wanted to go to the US you would need to be a global player. [But] there are markets closer to home that you could expand into.
“New Zealand is difficult as there are barriers to entry there in terms of legislation. Asia or around that area… there are probably places you could take the business to in the short term,” he said.
While for the next 12 months the business will attempt to take market share away from the TAB, if it gets big enough then “Asia, America are growth opportunities,” in the not-to-distant future.
A helping hand
While he is regularly approached by parties interested in partnering or making an offer, for the meantime anyway Waterhouse said he was simply interested in growing the business.
“That’s not to say we close the door on anything, but we know where we have to head and where we want to take the business in the short term.
“The more you concentrate on anything external to that – you take your eyes off the prize. People call up all the time, but you have to concentrate on the core – which is getting market share through advertising and improving our offering.”
Following in the family footsteps
Waterhouse decided to become a bookmaker after time spent around the operation owned by his father Robbie – who is now a shareholder in TomWaterhouse.com.
It was the excitement that drew him to bet taking, though then it would have been hard to imagine to business he would eventually build.
“When I was a kid I had no passion for racing or bookmaking or anything like that.
“When I was at university I went out to work with my dad. I got there and I couldn’t believe all the action and the excitement. It was incredible how much fun it was.
“It was just such a fast-paced environment. You couldn’t help wanting to be there.”
Bookmaking has changed a lot in what is a relatively short amount of time, affected by the internet in similar ways as other disrupted industries.
“Unfortunately, the on-course business has completely died in Australia.
“If you are a local player and you want to stay being a bookie then you have got to compete.”
Now that he’s the boss Waterhouse said his time is split across different areas of the business.
“It’s probably different to how I imagined it would be when I started on the journey.
“There’s all those external pressures that come from having a business that’s trying to grow.”
Like he says, it’s in his blood
Waterhouse admits the same family name that dragged him into the biggest racing scandal in recent memory is a keystone the the success he has worked hard for.
“I am very lucky; I have come from a family that has not only been unbelievably supportive, but also has the background.
“I wouldn’t be in this position if I hadn’t come from the background and family I have come from.”
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