Bill Waterhouse a giant among bookmakers

Caryl Williamson and Doug Conway
Former leviathan bookmaker and family patriarch Bill Waterhouse has died aged 97

Before the internet and corporate betting agencies, Bill Waterhouse stood tall as the biggest bookmaker in Australia and at one stage, the world.

The racecourse betting rings were full of colourful people and Waterhouse, who has died aged 97, was the most colourful of all.

He said he never refused a bet and fearlessly took on legendary punters with names to match - the "Filipino Fireball" Felipe Ysmael, the "Hong Kong Tiger" Frank Duval and Kerry Packer who he said defaulted on a debt of more than $1 million.

After beginning as a clerk for his father Charles in 1938, Waterhouse was a lawyer and part-time bookie until the death of his brother Charles in 1954 and he quickly made the transition from barrister to bookmaker.

He never stopped doing the form even when he and his bookmaker son Robbie spent 17 years on the sidelines over the notorious Fine Cotton substitution scandal - of which Bill Waterhouse said in his memoir - What Are The Odds published in 2009 - they were scapegoats.

His form study was also responsible for the merging of two of racing's most famous families as his daughter-in-law Gai Waterhouse revealed.

"Thirty years ago I rang him to ask him to go on a new racing show," she said.

"He said `I can't but I have a son who can'."

Two years after the daughter of Australia's greatest trainer TJ Smith and Rob Waterhouse were married, the union produced a daughter Kate and a son Tom who carried on the family business.

The name Waterhouse is synonymous with racing and gambling and not a little controversy but Bill wrote he had no regrets.

"I have had a lovely life," he said.

"I've enjoyed it all, I love racing and it's great that we are still here."

While he was a leviathan bookmaker, Bill Waterhouse became a household name with the Fine Cotton scandal.

Bill and Robbie were warned off racetracks by the Australian Jockey Club, the authority at the time, for having prior knowledge of the substitution of Bold Personality for the lesser performed Fine Cotton.

"I don't pretend to be a Simon Pure," Waterhouse wrote.

"I have sometimes cut corners to get what I needed, but I am certainly no crook.

"I have a deep-seated sense of what is right and wrong and believe in the principle of fairness."

The Waterhouses were reinstated in 2002 by Racing NSW.

His colourful life included a divorce and a second marriage to the same woman, Suzanne, but he still maintained a relationship with Yuko Fujita, his companion while he was divorced.

Waterhouse was also the Honorary Consul-General to Tonga for many years after establishing a relationship with the heir to the throne when he was in law school.

Bill Waterhouse retired from bookmaking in 2010 while Tom Waterhouse now runs a tipping service, leaving Robbie as the family's only on-course bookmaker.

But Bill never lost touch and as recently as the past few months appeared in video commercials for his grandson's new business.