Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey


You don't see then often these days, but many racegoers of the 1960s, 70s and 80s will remember "emus", the tag given people who went around bent over and scooping up discarded betting tickets in the hope that an unobservant punter has tossed away one without realising it had a dividend payable on it.

The most profitable days were there was a protest upheld with some careless punters tossing away what proved to be a winning ticket without waiting for correct weight; the other was when a horse was scratched at the barrier with some backers remaining unaware that they were entitled to a refund after the late withdrawal.

April, 2018 : A faithful correspondent adds another revenue source …

“Way back when trios and trifectas were introduced on course, consolation dividends were paid on any order (trifecta) or any two when no-one had all three place-getters. There was one at the Showgrounds around 1976 that paid $8 for any two place getters. That meant slightly more than ten percent of tickets were actual winners, although many punters didn’t understand the rules. I was coming off a dirty day at the races and am not ashamed to admit I became an emu for one night. Found five tickets by the time they were lining up for the next race and resumed normal activities”.

Useful pick-up for Chris, but it is doubtful whether an Aussie Emu ever made a fortune - although given there were always five or six active at most meetings, there must have been some modest returns - but across the Tasman, a Kiwi Emu (obviously an unfortunate result of avian cross-breeding) did strike the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but to continue with the cliches, with a bolt of lightning later attached.

WELLINGTON, 1 November, 1950

“Auckland jockey Raymond Reginald Bennett, 44, was found guilty in the Supreme Court today of the theft of a winning 10/ doubles totalisator ticket worth £591/17/6, which his son found at the Foxton race meeting in August.

Evidence was given that Bennett's 15-year-old son picked up the discarded totalisator ticket and handed it to his father, who cashed it.

Bennett deposited £300 in a savings bank for his son, £120 for his wife, and spent the remainder paying bills and for other purposes.  The Court was told police had recovered £420.

Bennett's counsel argued that the accused had been within his rights to treat the ticket as discarded and without an owner.  He suggested it was common practice for people to search through discarded totalisator tickets on racecourses for dividend-bearing tickets which might have been thrown away.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty after a retirement of 20 minutes". - A.A.P

.Bennett was subsequently placed on a two-year bond by the Palmerston North Court and was ordered to make restitution of the remaining amount by weekly payments.


Editor : Most legal systems have an obscure statute relating to an offence usually referred to as "theft by finding", but the most fascinating facet of the case unfortunately remains unknown -  just how Bennett's was indiscretion detected???

Given his bills had been paid and bank deposits made, the charge must have been brought some days at least after the ticket had been cashed - one possibility is that Bennett himself must have "spilled the beans" by boasting of his windfall and was perhaps overheard by a jealous witness who “dobbed” him in..

The other possibility, especially given the dividend would represent a healthy five-figure sum today, was that the payout was by cheque.

That leaves two likely scenarios - the most likely that the original owner of the winning ticket later realised his error and put in a claim for the missing money, only to discover it had been paid out and was traceable back to Bennett - alternatively, given that governments since the inception of legalized totalizators had always reaped off at least one percent of turnover in unclaimed dividends, New Zealand authorities may have got wind of Bennett’s windfall and sought to make an example of him.

Many Oz papers carried a summary of the trial proceedings - there was probably additional detail published in New Zealand, but unfortunately their on-line archive “Newspapers - Past and Present” ends 31 December, 1949, and there remains several of these “loose ends” which we would love to tie down!

The “emu” nest was not necessarily restricted to on-course - although early regulations controlling the Victorian TAB were specifically designed to stop punters hanging around agencies, the reality - especially after the introduction of small transistor radios early-1960’s that that anyone could pop into a coat pocket to monitor race calls and results - was that many punters spent their Saturday afternoon in, or in very close proximity to, their local TAB, and as a result, there were heaps of discarded tickets left behind.

Although under 21 and technically not allowed to set foot in a TAB, I worked for a few months around this time in a northern suburbs agency run by a mate’s uncle who we shall only refer to as “Alf X”, and one of the Saturday “arvo” jobs was keeping the place clean of cigarette butts, newspapers, discarded tickets, etc.  The boss always insisted any tickets went into a separate bin “in case anyone comes back to claim them”, but I suspect the reality was that after-hours “Uncle Alf X” unofficially carried the rank of “Lieutenant-Colonel Alf X. Emu, First Class”.

Perhaps somewhat paradoxically. Kiwi Emus possibly thrived better than their Oz counterparts - betting on New Zealand racecourse since the first decade of the twentieth century was restricted to totalizators with bookmakers banned.

Tote tickets were always printed by the issuing machine and thus readable, and “bookies” in Australia probably benefited even more from unclaimed bets than the Government did from the “tote” - anyone who who has ever tried to interpret a bookmaker’s ticket written prior to the introduction of electronic systems in the 1990’s will be aware that their “penciller” who wrote out the wager held the same qualification in written skills as most general medical practitioners who wrote chemist’s prescriptions, a.k.a. indecipherable, even to the emu or local pharmacist with best of cognitive skills!



The Sad Case of a Kiwi Emu!