Tom Waterhouse’s NRL deal collapses; Tabcorp sues Victoria (again)

tom-waterhouse-nrl-deal-collapsesAustralian bookie Tom Waterhouse’s five-year $50m gambling partnership with the National Rugby League (NRL) has collapsed after both parties reportedly agreed to walk away from the deal. Waterhouse made a big splash in January with the news that the upstart independent bookie had snatched the coveted partnership away from the incumbent, corporate bookmaker Tabcorp, but apparently the deal was never consummated. Shane Mattiske, the NRL’s general manager for strategy, told ABC’s Four Corners program that the two sides had been negotiating “since the early part of the year” but had “failed to reach agreement around terms.”

The separate deal that Waterhouse signed with Channel Nine is not affected by the demise of the NRL partnership, but Mattiske said Waterhouse’s onscreen role during NRL broadcasts on Channel Nine “wasn’t consistent with our view on how sports betting promotion should take place, and it wasn’t consistent with the view of the major professional sports.” In the same breath, Mattiske claimed the kerfuffle didn’t influence the league’s decision to walk away from the deal, so believe what you will. Mattiske said the NRL might announce a new partnership before the season was through.

Waterhouse’s Channel Nine appearances have provided endless fodder for gambling critics, who have decried the young bookie’s supposed blurring of the lines between commentator and pitchman. Waterhouse has been officially summoned to appear before a parliamentary committee investigating the link between gambling and sports to explain himself. With any luck, Waterhouse will emerge from this hearing unscathed, much as he did from allegations of trading on inside info provided by his horse training mother Gai. But by this point, somebody really ought to do a YouTube parody of ‘leave Britney alone’ using Tom’s name.

Meanwhile, the company from whom Waterhouse plucked the NRL partnership in January has taken the state of Victoria to court. Again. Tabcorp is protesting a new $42m health benefit levy on its video poker (pokie) machines imposed by the Victorian government. Tabcorp’s principal objection is that it only operated pokies for 46 days of the current financial year, having lost the nearly two-decade pokies duopoly it held with Tatts Group in Victoria last August. (Both Tabcorp and Tatts have filed lawsuits seeking compensation for Victoria’s decision to end their pokie party.) Tabcorp believes Victoria should have pro-rated the levy rather than charge them for the full year. Tatts is facing a similarly outsized levy bill, but says it hopes to resolve the dispute through negotiations.