James Thomson Editor

James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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Tom Waterhouse looks like making $200m . . . by making you sick of the sight of him

Published 20 March 2013 08:24, Updated 21 March 2013 07:20

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Tom Waterhouse looks like making $200m . . . by making you sick of the sight of him

Racing ahead ... Tom Waterhouse’s marketing bombardment could have been part of a plan to get in and get a quick win with the overseas gaming groups, such as Ladbrokes, that are coming into the Australian market. Photo: Paul Rovere

By all reports, Tom Waterhouse is a very nice young man. Polite, softly spoken, calm, accommodating.

But right now he should feel well and truly entitled to turn around and give the world the finger.

All those comedians who’ve made fun of him. All those Twitter haters. All those newspaper columnist and bloggers who’ve slammed young Tom for his seemingly never-ending stream of advertisements, media appearances and fake commentary roles.

It seems to have all been worth it. Waterhouse now has a business worth somewhere around $200 million. What’s a few barbs in the grand scheme of things?

Reports in The Australian Financial Review suggest the British bookmaking firm Ladbrokes has offered to buy a 50 per cent stake in Waterhouse’s still relatively young business, valuing the entity at up to $200 million.

According to the AFR, the investment would effectively make Ladbrokes a sort of investment partner in the group, which Waterhouse would continue to run.

If the deal comes off – Ladbrokes have been in due diligence for the best part of a month – then it would be a remarkable effort for Waterhouse, the son of horse trainer Gai Waterhouse and bookmaker Robbie Waterhouse, who was once banned from Australian racetracks with his father Bill for their connection to a race-rigging scandal.

It would also be a triumph for marketing.

Waterhouse has spent huge amounts of money to build a database of sports and horse betting clients in a short amount of time. The saturation, often invasive, campaigns reached a crescendo this year with his sponsorship of the Nine Network’s rugby league coverage.

Waterhouse’s huge ad spend – said to be worth as much as $25 million – even put the bookmaker in the commentary box, much to the chagrin of footy fans.

But online betting is a numbers game and turnover is driven by the number of customer betting accounts you get, and there is no better way to get in front of potential clients than during the coverage of big sporting events.

Many in the industry believed Waterhouse has been looking for a quick win – his strategy has been to build his database as quickly as possible and then look to cut a deal with the overseas betting groups flooding Australia.

These mainly British groups have deep pockets and investors keen to find growth markets. That’s why we’ve already seen Irish bookmaker Paddy Power buy Sportsbet in two chunks over 2009 and 2010 for $180 million.

If this was Waterhouse’s strategy, then it’s been spectacularly executed. Even if sports fans are sick of the sight of him.

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