Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey


The TAB - Taking a Punt!

The basic and indelible principle of totalizator betting is that the operator both cannot lose, and in fact is guaranteed at least a gross profit via the fixed percentage of the pool before distributing the balance to winning punters in proportion to the amount invested on "winning" selections, be it horses, a turn of the cards or lottery numbers.

Impossible to lose ... or perhaps in the case of the Victorian TAB, just a tiny possibility ...

The introduction by VicTAB of on-course manual agencies offering Daily Doubles and Quadrellas presented no great problem - with a minimum of at least an hour and ten minutes between the running of the first leg and the last - either the second leg of the "Daily Dub" [1] or fourth of the Quaddie - the manual operation was basically the same as in off-course agencies.

But TAB management's later move to introduce Win and Place betting on provincial meetings presented a whole new set of logistical problems.

On-course punters since the introduction of the on-course tote in 1931 were accustomed to betting up until "the jump" and (although not introduced until a year or so later) to be able to line up to collect any dividends as soon as correct weight was declared - typically four or five minutes after the race was run.

Manual issue of tickets off-course still required betting to close forty minutes before a race to allow the collation of tickets, the transmission of totals to a District Office, and in turn to the course to allow pools to be updated at least ten minutes before the advertised starting time of the event.  

But obviously with the on-course punter's expectations of cut-off and collect times and with typically three different TAB outlets operating in different locations within the track venue, this was impossible.

To offer a comparable service for win-and-place provincial betting, the TAB was forced to introduce an alternative schedule - although betting continued up to the "jump", there was an internal cut-off time of ten minutes prior to the provincial race which triggered the manual collation, usually completed in time to allow totals to be transferred to the provincial on-course tote five minutes prior to starting time to allow the country punters to assess potential dividends.

During the intervening ten minutes, bets taken by the agencies at the metropolitan courses were not included in the on-course pool of the provincial meeting, and thus the TAB effectively operated a small individual pool which could, depending on the betting patterns, result in a "win" situation if the last ten minutes saw punters shy away from the ultimate winner, meaning the TAB dividend paid from the combined pool was greater than the theoretical dividend from the non-transmitted pools.

On the other hand, if the winner was heavily backed in the last few minutes on the metropolitan course, the opposite applied - the TAB was committed to paying a higher dividend than would have been necessary if the late money had been included in the combined pool.

(Perhaps it should be emphasised that the TAB had a head-start anyway - the dividend declared on-course still had the standard deduction applied, which was originally 12% but went higher in later years as the State Government got greedier).

Really, the potential risk was not great - given there was no facility to display potential dividends for the provincial races on city courses, the level of betting was never large - and, I believe there was an emergency procedure in place to update the combined pools if a metropolitan punter took the bull by the horns and placed a bet above a pre-determined value ($100 comes to mind).

Only a few people, almost exclusively within the management hierarchy, knew of VicTAB’s “punting” activities - as we said, the turnover was low and the net result just one of "swings and roundabouts”.

[1]  By law, the Daily Double could not operate on consecutive races as this would have clashed with on-course running doubles - the two races selected were generally two of the better-class races on the day, but this could vary as the TAB always wanted reasonably large fields and preferably without an outstanding favourite, both criteria to ensure a healthy dividend. Perhaps it is an indication of the off-course doubles popularity that race clubs soon began to adjust the structure of their programs to fit in with the preferred legs - typically races 5 and 7 on an eight race program.   The last race was reserved for the meeting Quinella.

April, 2017

In reviewing “VicTAB - How and Why” and adding a few comments about the creation of the Western Australian TAB which opened just a week after Victoria, I’m reminded that a similar situation existed there for a number of years prior to their computerisation.

Because the WA TAB were initially competing with legal off-course bookmakers, bets were taken up to the start of a race.  WA TAB initially used modified N.C.R. cash registers to issue tickets, pre-printed and colour-coded to identify the meeting and race number with bet type, selection and unit value entered through the keyboard.

The manual collation was made progressively until a cut-off time of three minutes before a race and the TAB “played bookie” for the remaining time - theoretically (and legally), individual bets were limited to £1 in the intervening period, but this in what was still basically a manual system was impossible to enforce and anecdotal evidence suggests it was left to the discretion of branch managers as to whether they would accept larger wagers.

Also because of the competition with bookmakers, few of the restrictions that were imposed in agencies in other states existed - outlets were allowed to provide broadcasts, seating for the public, form guides, and payout after each race, allowing for re-investment.

One of the arguments over the latter was that if you were to effectively encourage punters to stay, should TAB agencies also provide toilet facilities?   The answer came in the negative - it was decided sealed off toilet facilities were too expensive to install and keep clean, and also a potential after-hours security risk,