The payout queue, all welcome

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In the 1970s, when the betting rings were still vibrant and liquid, large cash bets were not uncommon with rails bookmakers.

A cunning entrepreneur worked out a way to defraud bookies with little risk of exposure.

The punter would stand on the public side of the betting ring, close to one of the big rails bookmakers with his nose buried in the form guide. He was calmly waiting for a big cash bet to be made on a short-priced favourite. If the bookie called $6000 to $4000 a particular horse, the punter would immediately step in and have $60 to $40 the same horse, with the bookie hand-writing the bet on the very next ticket to be issued.

The punter would then race outside to his car in which he had a small printing apparatus, and print off the bookmaker’s ticket with the preceding number to his own ticket—the same number that was on the ticket of the big bet.

Each ticket has the three letter code for the day printed on it and he was able to reproduce that code on his tickets. He also had the style and colour of writing that the bookmaker used, and reproduced that on the forged ticket to make it appear absolutely genuine.

If the horse won, he was first in the queue to collect, pocketing the $10,000 and disappearing before the punter with the legitimate ticket presented it to the payout staff.

Most rails bookmakers used different staff on the bag taking bets from those paying out, and the identity of this punter, who successfully plied his trade for six years, was never known to the payout staff on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Police received ongoing reports of this scheme but the punter kept well ahead of the law by striking sporadically in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and the Gold Coast as well as on the Melbourne tracks.


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Legendary professional punter Stephen Fletcher was notorious for ‘beating the system’.

The TAB introduced a new bet type in the 1990s called the Mystery Six, which operated across the three codes on the last six races although clearly the Saturday metropolitan race meeting created the greatest interest.

The numbers were random and entirely computer generated in a lotto-style bet but after many weeks of the bet not going off, interest began to dwindle.

The TAB then made the decision that they would let the bet jackpot for another four weeks and then allow four or five winning tickets to be generated so as to clear the bet out of the system.

No winning tickets had been generated before this decision as the numbers supposedly selected at random by the TAB computer were weighed heavily towards outsiders based on Friday’s early win pools for each race.

One punter who recognised this undisclosed situation was Steve Fletcher.

He waited until the pool was nudging $1 million and then he and his cohorts struck. They outlayed enough money on the early Friday pools on the genuine outsiders in each race so that they became, for the time, the favoured runners. This was done for as little as $200 to $300 per race.

Then, on the Saturday they took Mystery Six combinations to the value of $200,000 covering all the combinations of horses with genuine winning chances. By the time the second last race had been run, they had the only twelve tickets remaining and got the entire pool to themselves.

Steve Fletcher organised similar stings on the greyhound and trotting Mystery Sixes, getting both as well, which netted them a further $1.5 million from the TAB that had deliberately been making it very difficult for the punters to win.

The bet type was shelved soon after.



People have come up with many ways of beating the handicapping system. At the turn of the last century there was one method known as ‘flying the pigeon’. A 1936 article in The Queenslander tells of the practice used in that state in the early part of the twentieth century:

Many a betting coup was brought off with it until the gradual tightening of racing regulations eliminated its operation. ‘Flying the Pigeon’ meant that a horse carrying, say, 9 stone [57 kg], went out for the race carrying that weight, but when ‘the pigeon’ was flown it carried as much less weight as ‘the pigeon’ represented. ‘The pigeon’ (usually 141b [6.3 kg] of lead) was placed in a bag, or some such convenient receptacle, with tapes for convenient hanging. The jockey (who had to be a party to the scheme) went to scale with it concealed in his gear or under his jacket. In the preliminary he would gallop his horse to the back stretch of the course and pull up to a walk. ‘The pigeon’ would be released from its hiding place and hung on a post or anything else that was convenient.

The horse and rider would then proceed to the post and compete under the greatly reduced weight. With the race over the rider would send his mount over to where ‘the pigeon’ as waiting. He would gather it, safely stow it away again, and return to scale to weigh in correctly.

It was claimed that the operation of ‘Flying the Pigeon’ achieved a big percentage of successful results, particularly in the old days of night racing under the lights at Woolloongabba, but like all other nefarious practices it also brought the odd reversal of fortune for its perpetrators. One such instance was associated with a meeting at Eagle Farm. A horse, under 9.0 [57 kg], had run an unwanted second in a mile race on the first day of a two-day meeting and, as he was running against the same horses under similar conditions on the second day, those associated with him saw ‘an unbeatable certainty’ if ‘the pigeon’ could be flown.

The scheme was put to a big punter of the day and he agreed to facilitate the action and threw his cards in for a big win. The jockey was then secured as a party to the scheme. Everything went off smoothly as planned except for one thing, the horse wanted no part of the rort. It had been backed for an absolute fortune and despite carrying 14 pounds [more than 6 kg] less than its stipulated weight after ‘the pigeon’ had been flown, the horse put in a shocker and failed to run a place. The schemers were left lamenting and all they could find in their pockets were their fingers; perhaps they had overlooked the fact that on the first day the track was heavy as a result of rain, which apparently suited the horse, whereas on the second day the going was firm and fast.