Centre of the Betting Ring

Even a casual observer will have noticed that corruption is alive and healthy in our society. It often seems that the people who are elected or chosen to lead us by example are the ones whose morality is challenged when filthy lucre is on offer.

Back in the day, at a time when laptops, tablets and smartphones were material for science fiction journals, The Wattmeister played the part of an extra in the grand cast of characters at Britain’s racecourses and greyhound tracks. In those days, the betting ring was a vibrant cauldron bubbling with sharp wit, movement and colour fired by unique mastery of figures, a touch of cunning and anachronistic skills like “tic-tacking”.

For many years, Billy Brown and his tic-tac colleagues, Mickey ‘Hokey’, Johnny Mack, Rocky and others were at the epicentre of betting activity on the racecourse.

Using the arcane but efficient method of “tic-tac”, they were a working exchange for:

  1. Communication of odds from one part of the betting ring…the Rails Bookies… to their customers…the Tattersalls Bookies and Silver Ring bookies.

2. Sending and receiving bets ” through the air”, and subsequently recording and settling those transactions on behalf of their customers.

Each individual bookmaker in Tattersalls and the Silver Ring would employ their own tic-tac to feed information and place bets (through the air) as and when necessary.

All the business would be done in a frenetic five or ten minute period before the start of each race. At a big meeting like Royal Ascot, Billy Brown might be dealing with 30 Rails bookmakers and 80 Tattersalls bookmakers in a constant flurry of apparently chaotic semaphore.

Over the course of a year, literally tens of millions of pounds worth of business transactions would pass through Billy’s and his colleagues’ trademark white gloves. No receipts, no invoices…. all performed on a solid basis of trust and honour.

Apart from this, their skills gave the racecourse an enigmatic energy which characterised the betting ring.

Alas, this art has been replaced by technology. But some of higher rank who hide behind the veneer of ‘respectability’ could learn how to conduct themselves with probity by following  the example of Billy Brown…centre of the betting ring.


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