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Tom Waterhouse… Timely Tips And Trackside Tales

By Dan Hutton on September 29, 2011 in People

Photo: Georgie Gavaghan

During the month The Beast caught up with Australian racing identity and leading bookie Tom Waterhouse, who has been busy with the launch of his new betting website, www.tomwaterhouse.com

When you’re in Sydney you live on the north side of the bridge; do you get over to the Eastern Suburbs much besides on race days at Randwick?
Yeah, I’ve lived all my life in the north but the east’s got so much activity so my wife and I are always going to dinner on the east side. I think a lot of the people who live on the north do the same. I love living in the north but the east has got lots of great restaurants and lots of different stuff going on. I feel like I’m there at least a few times a week. But I haven’t been to the races at Randwick for more than three years.

When do you think you will get back down to the track next?
It’s very hard because most of our business is online or on the telephones. When the races are on it’s our busiest time so we’re taking all our bets online or on the telephone and it’s very hard to be out of an office environment because the Internet connection is not as great or telephone connections aren’t as great. So it’s probably a long time until I’m back at a racecourse.

You don’t have someone working on the bag at the racecourse just for the presence?
We do sometimes but for me most of the business is done in the office.

What does your grandfather think about the modern changes in bookmaking?
When my grandfather was my age the races were basically the only form of entertainment and gambling. He talks about there only being a handful of restaurants in Sydney at the time. There was going to the football, going to the cricket or going to the races, whereas now there are so many other activities you can do as part of your entertainment. These days you’ve got radio coverage and great TV coverage and there’s so many ways to experience the racing without actually having to be at the track. The crowds these days go to the track once a year for the Melbourne Cup or Derby Day or something like that but it’s not the same. So I think he sees it as a natural transition to go away from the track.

What do you love about the Eastern Suburbs?
There’s so much activity. You’ve got fantastic beaches and you’ve got lots of different types of people and you’ve got great restaurants. When you take someone from overseas out in Sydney you take them to places in the Eastern Suburbs, don’t you? My wife and I go horse riding down at Maroubra, Malabar and Centennial Park. We go to the Entertainment Quarter or Bondi Junction to go and see a movie or we just go and see the different types of people that get around Bondi on a Sunday afternoon. The Eastern Suburbs is pretty hard to beat.

What was it like growing up as part of what is essentially Australian racing’s royal family?
When my sister and I were kids we didn’t really like horse racing. We used to say to my mum and dad, “Can you stop talking about horse racing, it’s so boring”. Because you’re a kid you’re thinking about playing sport or, when you get a bit older, going out with girls. It was just normal growing up because that’s all we knew.

Your folks would have talked racing a fair bit?
All the time but now my mum complains that I talk racing too much with my dad.

Did she want you to go into the training side of things or was she happy for you to go into bookmaking?
From about the age of 12 to 17 I worked at least one week every school holiday and every Sunday at my mum’s stables but I never really went, “Oh, this is fantastic”. It was more like a chore. I never thought that I’d go into that area. I never thought I’d go into anything to do with racing to be honest. I thought I’d go into finance but then I worked one day for my dad when I was in first year uni, helping out at the races and I just went, “Far out, I never knew this existed. This is so much fun,” and then it just went like a snowball after that.

Is your mum still as passionate about training as she always has been?
She’s a pretty passionate, enthusiastic lady. She has a real buzz for life and for training and real get up and go.

She must be quite competitive as well – is she out there thinking, “I’m going to beat Bart”?
No, I never really get that vibe from Mum, actually. I’ve never heard her say, “I’m going to beat this person”. It’s more like, “I’m going to achieve this” or “I can do that”.

What do you think are the two best things that each of your folks have passed on to you?
My mum’s a very outgoing, bubbly person and very open whereas my dad is amazingly intelligent, very smart, very thorough and very analytical. He’s completely on another side to Mum. He’s quieter and thinks about things more.

So you’ve got a bit of both?
Well, I might have a bit more of one or the other but there are definitely bits of the two.

Do you have a favourite Australian race track?
Well my offices are at Moonee Valley so I’m a little bit biased because I’m there every day, but I used to love Hawkesbury race track because of the bacon and egg rolls.

Do you spend much time at the track at race meetings?
Never. I recently brought a whole bunch of mates out to come and see Mum do track work and it was the first time I’d even gone to the track to see her in over ten years.

Your dad’s known to rise at 3:30am to analyse the form before a race meeting, are you anywhere near as diligent as that?
No, my mum gets up at 2:30am, my dad’s up at about 3:00am or 3:30am every day. They get up very early. I go to bed after 12 most nights. I don’t think I’m a morning person. I’m up early but nothing like that.

That’s why you’ve got staff to do the analysis for you…
It’s just a different business model. My dad’s an on-track bookie. He specializes in doing the form for one particular meeting whereas we’re betting on every race in Australia, around the world, plus every sports event. It’s like the difference between going to a GP and a specialist. He specializes in doing one race meeting and doing the form very thoroughly for that whereas we’re more into giving a good service to clients and betting on everything.

Are your folks involved at all in your business?
No. Mum has her training business and my dad’s an on-course bookie and they both have fantastic businesses of their own.

You’ve worked with your dad and your grandfather in the past at the track; do you miss that side of things?
I miss the banter that goes on at the track and I miss the theatre that goes on there. But I think unfortunately one of the reasons why I left the track three years ago is it was dying anyway. You just weren’t getting the same crowds. It wasn’t that I wanted to leave the race track, it’s just that the market place was no longer there. It’s shifted to online and on the telephone and people doing it out of offices or their living room or wherever.

Do you have a favourite horse?
I think my favourite horse was Dance Hero, which was Mum’s champion two year-old that won the Triple Crown and the Magic Millions. It won two or three of those races in record time and it was just a freak. It’s the best two year-old I’ve ever seen and then it also won a Group One later on as a five year-old. So it’s my favourite. My favourite horse currently though is So You Think. It’s a freak.

What’s the most amount of money you’ve won on a race day?
It’s strange, you know, I can tell you straight away the most amount of money I’ve lost on a race, but it’s hard when you’re winning because you can be winning some bits on credit and some might take a long time to be paid. I remember the first day that I went down to work as a bookie in Melbourne at Derby Day and I was the first bookie in 40 years from Sydney to work down in Melbourne for the carnival and the last Sydney bookie to have worked on the rails down in Melbourne for the carnival prior to that was my grandfather in 1968. So this was in 2008, the whole family came down and it was a big day out because I was finally on the rails in Melbourne. There were 110,000 people there, it was just a massive day and they’d organised a big dinner that night, and that first day that everyone was down there I came to dinner and I’d lost a bit over $2 million that day and it was like a shellshock. That is obviously a lot of money and I still had three big days of the carnival left. You’ve lost $2 million on the first day and even though you might think in your mind you can handle that, you know you’ve got a huge week so what happens if you do that on the next day? It just put this awkward feeling on the rest of the carnival.

Did you recover it?
By the end of the week I was able to work most of it back but it’s a long way to come back from.

Is that your biggest loss in a day?
On a day, yeah.

Do you ever knock back a bet?
Yeah. It’s part and parcel of trying to shape your book up. My aim is to always make sure that my customers are happy and that I can give them the service they want. Obviously it’s in my interest to bet them what they want because I don’t want to lose them as clients but if someone wants to bet you a billion dollars that such and such is going around, you’ve got to still keep it somewhat in your comfort zone. It’s definitely not my aim to knock back bets but you’ve got to make sure you’re not stepping into that zone where you’re not comfortable.

Do you think Australia has a gambling problem?
I think the people in Australia are very unique. It’s sort of in our social make up to have a beer and a bet. I like the Australian way, but I think if it was in another country where it wasn’t built into the psyche it might be a bit strange, but I don’t feel generally that Australia as a country has a gambling problem.

What are your thoughts on poker machines?
Personally I don’t play the poker machines. It doesn’t do anything for me. But to those people who love going to all those clubs, who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, I always say that you never want to chase your losses. If you’re going to go to the races, put 20 bucks aside and say, “Well that’s my 20 bucks to go and have a bet,” then you’re never going to get in trouble. If your pastime is going to your local RSL and sitting next to your mate and you want to put $10 aside to play the pokies, that’s fine, but if you lose that $10 then that’s it.

Do you fear that gambling laws could eventually hurt your business to some degree?
The thing that I’m most concerned about is that they’ve got these laws in at the moment – which the Productivity Commission have recommended be changed – that are allowing overseas companies to come and get revenue from Australia without paying any taxes back to Australia and offer products that local companies aren’t allowed to offer. I think it should be a level playing field.

How many people bet through your website? Is it reaching expectations?
I’ve only been going on all sports and racing for ten months so it’s beyond expectations but I didn’t expect that I’d go and acquire another business or spend the amount of money I’ve spent on advertising. So it’s exceeding expectations on how quickly it’s growing but it’s probably been facilitated a lot by me pushing harder and harder and harder. I’ve got a vision of where I want to get to and it’s still a long way from where I want it to be.

Why should people get down to the track this Spring Racing Carnival?
Personally, I like betting from my office or from home but the thing that would lure me to the track is to see Black Caviar for instance. That horse is just a freak, once in a lifetime horse. You’ve got other great horses like Mum’s horse More Joyous too. To see these great horses and great races and the atmosphere and social activity of it over the spring is just amazing.

What do you think it is that continues to attract people to horse racing?
I think it’s the fact that people can get involved with it. If you like Formula One and you want to get down in the pits with Michael Schumacher or Mark Webber or whoever, you can’t really buy into Ferrari or buy into Williams, you can’t go and get in there. You might be able to if you win a competition or something and get in there for one day. But if you love racing and you like Jimmy Cassidy or you like Darren Beadman or you want to meet Gai Waterhouse, for a very small amount of money you can actually go into a syndicate or buy a whole horse and you’re right in the hub of where everything’s happening. You only have to have $1 on a horse and suddenly you watch every move of that race because there’s such participant involvement, whereas in other sports it’s hard to get into it in the same way that racing allows you to.

Is being a bookie a glamorous lifestyle?
It’s probably glamorous from the outside because you’re dealing in such high swings and roundabouts. You can win or lose so much money in a particular day on a particular outcome, so that probably attracts people to it. But I work out of a small office with 40 or 50 people jammed in together working long hours and long days. I don’t think it’s that glamorous but I love it.

Were you a good mathematician back in your school days?
When I was younger I was quite good at maths but not particularly as I got older at school, no. My business is very much about letting my clients bet on what they want to and giving them the best possible service I can. It’s more making my clients happy than making a book or knowing the numbers.

I imagine you spend a fair bit of time on the phone; do you worry at all about mobile phone cancer?
My mum worries a lot. She really worries about it because I spend all day on my mobile and on different little mobile handsets taking bets all day long. She’s always buying me bluetooth connections and things. She worries about it a lot more than me but when you’re working in this technology age where that’s the way people want to bet, it’s hard to not use your mobile and it’s hard when you’re in the thrust of your business and your client says, “I’ll have $10,000 on this”, to say to your client, “Hang on a second, I’ll just enable my bluetooth”.

How many staff do you employ?
Because we’re on this huge ramp up, at the moment it would probably be maybe 50, but that’s always changing. We use a lot of consultants too and we outsource different other things.

Where do you find all your staff, because I read that all your staff are under 36 years of age?
There might be a few who are older but there wouldn’t be many. It’s generally pretty young. We use Seek, Facebook and Twitter to advertise. We use word of mouth and we use recruitment agencies but we have sort of a policy that if we come across someone particularly talented that we think would be great for the group, even though we might not have a role for them at that time, we’ll just hire them.

Do you ever have any issues with bad debts?
Yep. We don’t give any credit online though. If you put your 20 bucks in to have a bet through the week that’s all you can bet, so online there’s no bad debts. But I have a VIP business, which is a select group of clients who can have large, high debts. When the global financial crisis hit I had a whole bunch of clients who were high net individuals that were betting very big and have been betting with me for a long time, and that certainly had a big impact on my business.

Do you always go through the lawyers or do you have a big Tongan that goes and sorts people out?
No, we follow a set process. Unfortunately if it goes down that path it just goes to lawyers.

What’s the biggest amount you’ve lost on a client?
I’m owed a lot of money. I think it was a lot more collectively but one individual client through the financial crisis owed me about $2.5 million or something like that.

Will you ever see that?
I don’t think so.

Do you enjoy the social side of your profession or does it become a pain in the arse?
I love it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. I love all my clients, they’re great. I love hanging out with them all and speaking to them and that’s part and parcel of the job. I just enjoy it.

You got married quite recently; how did you and your missus, Hoda Vakili, meet?
We were at Sydney Uni together. She was a few years below me and I was in a tute with one of her best friends and I actually met her and I said, “Look, do you want to come and work part time at the races”, and she’d never gone to the races before and she just came out there and after a few years I convinced her to go out with me and that was it.

Does she enjoy the punt?
I think she likes it when she goes to the races, because it’s quite social, especially if you’re there with a whole bunch of people. I don’t think she would have more than a couple of dollars on things but I think she enjoys it in that circumstance. I can’t imagine I’d ever see her going, “Actually, Tom, you go for your run, I’m going to go have a few bets”. She’s not really like that but she enjoys a day out at the races, for sure.
Your sister Kate is engaged to former Rooster Luke Ricketson; are you good mates with Ricko?
Yeah, well I lived with Kate for six years and a bit of that was when Luke was there. I had dinner with them last night actually, they came over to our house.

What’s Kate doing these days?
Kate’s the fashion editor for the Sun Herald. She does ‘Date with Kate’ every week and she has a show on Lifestyle Channel.

What’s the age difference between you two?
She’s 18 months younger than me.

When are they tying the knot?
I think some time around June or July next year.

Are you a rugby league fan?
I am. Don’t tell Luke but I actually am a big Broncos supporter. I loved Allan Langer.

Can we get an early tip from you for the Melbourne Cup?
I think Mum thinks she’s got a great chance. She’s got a whole stack of stayers going down there. I don’t know which ones are going to be set for it but she’s got a horse called Tullamore that has got a good chance. And she’s also got Descarado. She thinks she’s got a whole string of really good chances. I thought My Lucky Day had a solid run on the weekend and I think it has a really good chance, and I also think this year some of those overseas horses probably have a really good chance.

Is the Melbourne Cup the hardest race of the year to pick?
It’s very hard because it’s a handicap, so it’s very rare you see a clear cut favourite. It’s a very wide open betting race and there’s form from so many different places – from France, England, America, Hong Kong, Japan, Ireland – so it makes it very hard to line up but that’s what makes it great, and that’s why everyone has a different opinion.

Have you ever competed in Fashions on the Field?
No.

Your mum never entered you as a youngster or anything?
Maybe, I don’t know. Not that I can remember. She used to make me wear my school uniform to the races all the time when I was a kid.

Do you have any advice for punters out there looking to win a few bob, some betting advice?
I’ve got heaps of betting advice. If you’re betting on races you should always bet with a bookie rather than betting with the TAB. If you’re betting on Sydney and Melbourne I’d always ask for best fluctuation, which is the best bookie’s price, or if you’re betting on Brisbane and Adelaide ask for the best of the three totes. You’re always going to get a better price if you make sure you know about these two products. I’d always pick the horse that you like that you think has got the best chance and have the same amount on it no matter if it’s paying $2 or $10. If you’re getting value, take advantage of the value. I’d also say, as I said before, don’t ever chase your losses. Always follow good trainer and jockey combinations too. And don’t follow the herd. If you see everyone backing one particular horse and it’s just about to jump and it has gone from $5 into $2, don’t back it because you’ve missed the value. When you’re betting you’ve always got to look for value. It’s very hard to win and you have to put a lot of work in to win at punting but you’ll definitely have a much better chance if you follow these rules.

Do you support any charities?
I’m an ambassador for Grey Matters, which raises funds and awareness for brain cancer research. It’s a fantastic charity. And I used to support the Starlight Foundation but now my sister and I put all our effort into Grey Matters.

In an ideal world what does the future hold for Tom Waterhouse?
I’d like to be betting on everything under the sun. At the moment we’re betting on nearly everything under the sun but I’ve only been operating for ten months. I want to be hopefully doing this in 50 years time, so it’s very hard to implement what you’ve got in a 20-year or 30-year plan straight away. I just hope that I can continue to offer the same unique service that I offer and make sure that I always keep that personal touch to it.

And from a personal point of view, what do you hope the future holds? Are there any plans for kids?
I keep trying to convince my wife. I think that’s one of the nice things about life, isn’t it, having kids? I don’t know what her plans are and it’s sort of up to her. If she wants to have them now I’d be as happy as Larry. When you get married that’s one of the things that you look forward to.

1 COMMENT. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

  1. Nice one again, Dan.
    Love these interviews. They dig just to an acceptable degree, don’t get too intrusive but still delve deep enough to find what’s behind the personality.
    Good on yer – keep it up; Oh, and stop kicking your bro’s knee !!
    Uncle Bruce. UK.

    Posted by: Bruce Hutton ('Nunky". UK. | October 5, 2011, 3:06 AM |

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