How Tom Waterhouse’s unwanted media presence led to a change in gambling advertisement regulations?

For fans, sport is an opportunity to relax, sit down, turn on the TV, and take enjoyment out of a match.

For betting agencies, sport is an opportunity to seize control of a once innocent past time, directly or indirectly influencing the minds of punters. Ad after ad throughout a sport-filled television timeslot has riddled the idea of enjoying sport for the game itself: more and more fans being concerned with the resulting profits from the match. This advertising of gambling hit a peaking point in 2013, when betting spruikers were detailing live odds during sports broadcasts. Public outrage to this issue led to new rules banning live odds during sports broadcasts. The man at the centre of this saga was bookmaker Tom Waterhouse, public enemy number 1 for gambling advertisement activists.

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Waterhouse’s continual presence during Channel 9’s coverage of the NRL was widely criticized, and resulted in a large amount of complaints from the public. He was painted as the poster boy for gambling immorality and constant public disgust. Anti-gambling campaigns forced Waterhouse to significantly reduce the amount of advertisements publicized by his company. Consequently Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her government cracked down on gambling advertisements during sports broadcasts, TV agencies and betting agencies agreed to new rules banning live betting odds during sports broadcasts.

So why was it that these gambling advertisements caused such an outcry from the public, which ultimately created media regulation for betting agencies? There are three main reasons, and both circulate around morality.

Firstly, Australia has a gambling epidemic. Australians are amongst the worst gambling countries in the entire world, and statistics show that over 300,000 people in the country have a gambling problem. Gambling addicts are constantly put into positions of heavy debt, which can then result in further criminal activity to help fuel the addiction. For a country that constantly seeks to reduce that number, and try to change the stigma surrounding gambling, a constant barrage of gambling commercials does not vie as the solution.

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Secondly, the effect on children. Sport is a universally shared love by all different ages. From a young age, kids will be watching sport, to support their team, as a bonding experience with friends and family, and simply to enjoyment the sport they love by watching it on television. Children will respect all aspects of their favourite sport, the players, coaches, referees (well, possibly, lets not go too far) and teams. So when constant gambling advertisements are paraded in front of them while their favorite sport is on, the child forms an association between the two. Gambling regulations restrict commercials being directed to children and portraying children, however, no matter how minimal the amount of advertising they view, they will surely take in some of the advertising.

 

The last reason has to do with space and place. When people watch sport, they want to feel comfortable during the game. A ‘break’ in the match, should be a break, where the audience doesn’t have to concentrate and think about the match. The bombardment of gambling advertising from Tom Waterhouse left many feeling claustrophobic during broadcasts, and their sense of space constricted: many opting to switch off the Television. Thus the amount of viewers watching free-to-air sport was reduced, which was something that was actually against the whole purpose of having that sport on the television, so people could view it.

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The events that unfolded in 2013 were a turning point in the government stamping the foot down on the regulation of Gambling advertisements. The over-exaggerated amount of these gambling messages from betting agencies- namely Tom Waterhouse- unified a majority to lobby against the gambling paradigms at currently exist in Australia. Sadly for Waterhouse, he personified the whole gambling industry, and created a target on his back.

Waterhouse’s company has now re-invented himself under a new name, William Hill, the former name untenable. The majority of Australians hate the betting ads but are powerless to completely stop them. They keep reinventing themselves with different betting strategies.

Though 2013 gambling advertisement saga is a prime example of how a public armed with ammunition, can successfully defeat the big corporations: in this instance changing media regulations towards gambling.

 

References:

  1. ABC News. (2013). Tom Waterhouse: you will see less of me on TV. [online] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-05-31/waterhouse-apologises/4724560
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