Is there a modern day role for the tic-tac man in racing?

The tic-tac man used to be as common a site at a racecourse as a horse or a jockey was. But with times changing, the site of a tic-tac man on a racecourse is now very rare. Here we look at why. But we also ask the question, is there a modern day role for the tic-tac man? 

What is a tic-tac man? 

Racegoers of a bygone era may remember an odd looking bloke wearing white gloves standing on a box making gestures across the betting ring. These strange looking gestures looked more like a bizarre form of sign language, mixed in with some very dodgy dance moves.

That man wasn't a guy on a day out at the races who had drunk a couple too many and was indulging in some worse than usual dad dancing. That guy was actually a tic-tac man, whose job was to convey information across the racecourse betting ring about price movements, and money coming in for particular horses, amongst other things. Without a tic-tac man, a bookmaker is exposed, there for the taking.

Do Bookies still use tic-tac men?

To put it bluntly, there is little need for bookies to use visible tic-tac men. The reason is pretty obvious, modern technology. 

As much of a skill as it was to communicate in that manner, thanks to modern day technology, it's now rarely needed. In the past it was used as a fast way of communicating across the betting ring. Yes, runners could be used. But it was quicker to convey the information via hand signals and bizarre body movements. 

The information is now transferred via modern technology, such as text messages. 

It may be a dying art, but it is still an impressive skill to know. If you want bookies tic tac explained correctly to future generations, the knowledge will need to be retained. It's important not to let it completely die out. But in order to keep the skill, it needs to become relevant again, and at the moment, it's hard to see how that happens.

Why was the tic-tac man relevant?

If a bookmaker wasn't aware of changes in the betting ring, he/she risked being taken to the cleaners.

A tic-tac man could quickly alert an already busy bookmaker to price changes on horses across the betting ring. This allowed the bookmaker receiving the information to act quickly, and make relevant changes to a horse's odds. 

If the bookies in the betting ring have cut the odds on a horse (getting heavily backed) from 7/1 to 4/1, and one bookmaker is behind the curve, that bookmaker risks being cleaned out by punters still getting the 7/1. 

The bookie could also inadvertently offer themselves as a way of covering the other bookmaker's losses on that horse. The other bookies could lay bets at 4/1, and cover themselves by backing the horse at 7/1. Also ensuring themselves a profit. 

The tic-tac man was basically the eyes and ears for a bookmaker on the course. And make no mistake, it is an important job. Without the tic-tac guy, a bookmaker could end up broke and out of business. 

Does the tic-tac man still exist?

As the last section eludes too, an on course bookmaker needed eyes and ears to know what was going on in the betting ring. And that’s still the case.

So it stands to reason that there will be guys operating in the betting ring, feeding information back to on course bookies. The difference is, that person will now be on a mobile phone, acting covertly. Not standing on a box in white gloves, looking like he's about to get thrown out for being drunk.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to see the tic-tac man becoming a familiar site again anytime soon. But that's not to say that the role won't come back. It could be that it's still there, simply evolving, moving with the times. 

Whilst the bookmakers still maintain a presence at racecourses, they will still need on course information. So in some shape or form, a tic-tac person is required. The only difference is, you just might not notice them anymore.

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