Is the Waterhouse deal the NRL’s biggest gamble?

Kris Swales Columnist

By , Kris Swales is a Roar Expert

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    During Channel Nine’s regular crosses to Bill Baxter’s reading of the live odds in their Test cricket coverage over the summer, I’ve often wondered to myself – does he have the worst job in the world?

    Okay, I’m sure he’s happy driving home to his air-conditioned luxury home after a long, hard day of odds reading, just as I am watching him do his thing from my tiny inner-city sweatbox (and this particular betting firm has used Samuel L. Jackson as the face of its launch into Australia, being able to call Jules The Hitman/Mace Windu/Frozone a work colleague is a pretty sweet fringe benefit).

    Still, I can’t help but think the live odds job is the broadcasting equivalent of a qualified chef working the deep fryer at a fast food chain, or a fringe NRL first grader playing for the Wallabies.

    And besides, for me the betting cross-promotional segment is just a good chance for a toilet break, like a time out in basketball or any Test match involving the Wallabies.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a bit of a punt – I’ll throw down a fiver on first scorer in an Origin match, the Clive Churchill medallist in the NRL grand final, and even fritter away 20 bucks on dollar each-way bets on the occasional Saturday afternoon down at my local.

    And although broadcasters spruiking the odds has been a part of my sports watching experience since the Wide World of Sports team used to cross to Kenny Callander out at the track in the 1980s, I look at the live odds trend as more of an unnecessary intrusion than a necessary evil.

    So Fairfax Media’s recent report that the NRL has sewn up an exclusive betting partnership worth somewhere in the vicinity of $50 million over five years with the Tom Waterhouse agency are slightly troubling.

    And the separate $15 million deal that is rumoured to make him the smug face of betting during Channel Nine’s rugby league coverage, as well as their AFL Footy Show, is the icing on the cake.

    Is Waterhouse the most divisive figure in Australian sport this side of Anthony Mundine? Actually, is he divisive at all?

    To be divisive you generally need people falling on both sides of the love/hate divide, and when I’m enjoying a day on the hill at Centrebet Stadium I don’t recall ever hearing Panthers fans discussing how much they love the son of Gai and sister of Kate’s television advertising campaign.

    You know the one: “I wasn’t born to be a footballer… I wasn’t born to wear the baggy green… in fact, I don’t have any discernible talent whatsoever, which is why I turned to gambling.” Oh wait, that was The Chaser crew’s memorable take-down piece on The Hamster Wheel in 2012.

    Between that piece of champagne comedy, Peter Fitzsimons’ regular anti-Tom rants in the Sydney Morning Herald, and the many pixels of internet vitriol I’ve seen directed at his ubiquitous TVCs, it’s hard to imagine anyone being happy about the NRL’s rumoured deal but the bean counters at Rugby League Central.

    But if you take the fans out of the equation, as seems to be quite common when it comes to rugby league, the real loser here is TAB Sportsbet’s Jaimee Rogers – one of the game’s real cult figures, much like George Rose or Garrick Morgan.

    What of Jaimee’s rapidly growing fan-base? Her burgeoning career? How is Jaimee to keep that chick-you’d-have-a-beer-with-at-the-pub demeanour bubbling if she’s reduced to talking overs and unders during Wallabies telecasts?

    All of this is, of course, immaterial – the live odds cross-promotional segment would seem to be here to stay.

    But I, for one, don’t welcome the NRL’s new betting overlord. And if an NRL grand final is ever played at Tom Waterhouse Stadium, all bets are off and I’m out.