Australian bookmaker Tom Waterhouse has pushed back against accusations that his television presence is promoting gambling to underage sports fans. A parliamentary joint select committee on gambling reform is examining the relationships between betting companies, sports and media outlets, in which Waterhouse’s onscreen presence during the Nine Network’s National Rugby League (NRL) broadcasts has come under particular scrutiny. After complaints that Waterhouse was blurring the line between commentator and pitchman, the broadcaster buckled under the political pressure and scaled back Waterhouse’s onscreen role.
Waterhouse had been invited to appear before the select committee but chose instead to submit a written response. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Waterhouse denied “targeting children through our advertising” and pointed out that “at all times we comply with all relevant codes.” Waterhouse reminded the committee that his Nine appearances were now relegated to “discreet segments” that clearly delineated the divide between broadcaster and bookie. “There is no interaction between the commentators and me.”
That said, Waterhouse’s submission insisted that his onscreen appearances were intended to “enhance the program” by being “informative and relevant from a statistical perspective.” Waterhouse also argued that his in-your-face approach was a product of the times. “In the modern age, traditional advertising (commercial ad breaks) no longer always works effectively.” What’s more, finding fresh and creative ways to get an advertiser’s message across was “vital in keeping TV a viable and relevant medium for business.” Waterhouse reminded the committee that lucrative deals like the one his firm struck with Nine enabled free-to-air TV networks to afford the broadcast rights to the very sporting events that Australians hold so dear.
BROADCASTERS OFFER TO POLICE THEMSELVES
Meanwhile, Australia’s free-to-air and subscriber-TV industries have drafted proposals to police their own relationships with sports betting firms. FreeTV Australia and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA) have offered to ban commentators from promoting live odds and ban all live odds promotion during game play. Betting company spokespeople like Waterhouse would still be able to promote live odds, but only during scheduled breaks in play and not within 30-minute periods immediately prior to or after a match. They would also have to be clearly identified as bookies, not commentators. The prohibitions would not apply to horse- or dog-racing, nor would they apply to ‘incidental’ promotion, such as ad banners on the barrier of a football pitch.
The industry groups are holding a public consultation on their proposals until May 20, after which the drafts will be submitted to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for consideration. Commercial Radio Australia proposed similar measures last December, which the ACMA is still considering. Predictably, the proposals have already been rubbished by Greens senator and habitual gambling scold Richard Di Natale, who said the only significant change would be the logo on Waterhouse’s microphone.