Congratulations, Tom Waterhouse. In the space of three months, the promotion and advertising of sports betting in Australia has gone from a rarely mentioned distraction to what has now become a significant election issue.

The 10’s on near-certainty to be Prime Minister in five months has apparently bowed to popular opinion and media hysteria and indicated he will act on advertising in sports broadcasts. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said yesterday:

“We are natural deregulators, not regulators. But when you’ve got a significant social nuisance, it’s important for government to at least be prepared to step in.”

Hang on a minute; don’t pokies inflict the most social pain and destruction? What does he think of them? Oh that’s right, they are part of the “social fabric”.

So how the hell did it ever come to this? If you run a business whose primary concern is gambling, then surely the obligation is with you — no matter what the law — to responsibly advertise and promote the business?

Racing integrity issues aside, what Tom Waterhouse has done is far from responsible. It’s oversaturation and an unbearably pervasive brand of promotion.

I can’t quite work out whether it was an inflated ego or a genuine marketing tactic that caused him to seek a “commentary” role with Channel Nine’s NRL coverage. Whatever the reason, it was pushing the envelope, and it’s proved the tipping point for public opinion.

Some say Nine is to blame for accepting the coin and allowing Waterhouse to live his dream on the commentary team. Rubbish. When you are in the business of gambling, the responsibility must be with the operator.

Even now with his “branded” segment on the sideline, Waterhouse is still blurring the line between bookie and commentator. Sure, tell us the odds. Tell us where the money’s gone. But why rattle off 15 insignificant stats in an attempt to persuade viewers that you know the game? You can rehearse the numbers for an hour before going to air and have as many people screaming down your ear as you like, but it still comes off as if you are trying to prove something that you are not — an NRL expert.

Not surprisingly, some of those strongly defending Waterhouse have come from within the racing industry. These are the people with the least to lose. Racing will continue to be the true “mug’s game”, and any impact from any proposed advertising restrictions during sporting events will be minimal.

The Waterhouse clan puff pieces in The Daily Telegraph from the likes of Ray Thomas have been laughable and counterproductive to their cause. Stand by for Kate Waterhouse sensationally revealing that her mum is a hard worker and her brother is misunderstood in next Sunday’s edition.

And then there is this dinosaur: “Why the animosity against young Tom?” Max Presnell asked in The Sydney Morning Herald. Utterly embarrassing stuff.

So where are we now? Tom Waterhouse appears to be burning a massive chunk of the family fortune in a continued marketing onslaught. Only time will tell as to whether there will be a significant return on the enormous investment. I highly doubt it. Of more concern to those within the industry, sports betting advertising has now somehow become a 2013 election issue. Which politician wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon of populist opinion?

Just a few years after the lifting of cross-state advertising restrictions, one operator has gone rogue and seems intent on dragging an entire industry down with him.

*This article was originally published at On The Punt