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TAB History New Zealand and Australia

The off course TAB betting system that we know today did not start in Australia but rather in New Zealand where a Royal Commission in 1947 recommended a referendum be held to determine the New Zealand public's attitude towards such a venture.

The referendum was held in 1949 and returned a two thirds positive majority and so the Government of the day moved towards actually doing it - which proved a bit harder in practice than in all the theory - as do most things of course! The idea was to set up a series of sub agencies around the country which reported to agencies which reported to regional branches which in turn reported to the head office in Wellington in New Zealand.

From HQ they transmitted the data to race tracks around the country which added the amounts to the automatic "totes" that already operated on track, also invented by a New Zealander called George Julius.

All this had to be trialled of course and this was done in two small towns north of Wellington called Fielding (ironic!) and Dannevirke - which, coincidentally, was the birth place of long time Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen. At the time, these two towns had a population of between 5000 and 10000 people which was considered by the experts to be the optimal size population to support a local agency.

Seventeen staff were trained for Dannevirke and 24 for Fielding. These staff were mostly retired post office and bank workers and they officially opened the doors at 10 am on March 28, 1951. Any punter walking in on the first few days was confronted with a "cage like" counter (like a post office), no radio, no seats, no anything in fact, where they could deposit their money and depart. Sounds like a great deal!

Betting was by cash over the counter only, then later by telephone account and by post, with the initial services offered being win and place only and, wait for it, a Daily Double!

The staff used desk top adding machines (yes, the ones with the paper total rolls attached) and betting on each race was ruled off 90 minutes before they jumped.

If you won, pay out day was Monday!!!!

The Government of the day's intention was to operate only on Saturdays and public holidays as they feared "gambling would clog up the New Zealand telephone service" if it was offered on working days.

Riccarton in Christchurch and Manawatu in Palmerston North were the first meetings covered on the first day. The manager of the Dannevirke agency reported: "We started briskly at 10am and there has been a steady stream of customers ever since. In fact, there are 20 to 25 in the office right now." By the close of business on the first day the combined turnover of the first two agencies was over 1500 pounds - far in excess of what the NZ Government thought would happen.

On Friday of the first week he reported: "there's great interest in the doubles betting facilities" which was made up of an adding machine operator and another plotting a wall bar chart.

In Australia, Victoria was the first State to introduce the "giddy goat" and its first 12 agencies opened on March 10, 1961 followed a few days later by WA, Queensland in 1962, New South Wales after another Royal Commission in 1964, South Australia in 1967 and Tasmania in 1975 (Tasmania of course had legalised off course bookmaker betting until then).

Countries world wide have followed New Zealand's lead - Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, South Africa, Singapore, Canada, Sweden and some states in the USA.

And it all started in Dannevirke and Fielding!


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