Tic-Tac is a communication system used at racecourses by betting firms to signal betting moves, price changes, money to be put on, who has put it on etc…. If a very large bet is placed with one bookmaker, this may be signalled to the others as a way of lowering the price on all the boards. It enables the bookmakers and bookie staff to quickly and secretly let each other know what is going on between the odds compilers without letting the punter hear or understand.

Sneaky eh? Tic-Tac is a feature of English and Scottish racecourses like Aintree and Ascot – you would be hard pressed to find it on the continent as it has never really been used there like it has been in the UK. Punters and onlookers love it, and it is quite a sight to witness, made even more appealing due to the fact that the average racegoer would never be able to decipher what is being said – and by golly, wouldn’t they love to!? A horses odds price movement would be hugely valuable to a punter, especially trackside, if they could get the information early enough.

Tic Tac is obviously quite a difficult language to learn, as it is a combination of cockney rhyming slang and backslang words and hand signals. A tic-tac man will usually wear bright white gloves to allow their hand movements to be easily seen, and they stand atop a wooden box to tic tac. Punters are even more confuddled by the use of a twist card which encode the hand signals even further. The individual bookmakers & layers use the card to mix up the racehorse runners and keep their information secret from other betting firms.

Tic-Tac came about as when there was huge amounts of money changing hands on races like the Grand National in the betting ring all the other bookmakers needed to know which horse it was for, so that they could avoid taking big bets on that particular horse themselves. Standing on boxes by the rails to elevate their positions, and by using the coded hand and arm movements, tic-tacs were able to tell their bookmaker this information. Eventually the code was becoming obvious so they started numbering horses irregularly,with their own bookmaker, so that no one else knew what they were talking about.

This has changed over time and signs were introduced to signify which bookmaker was which, for example William Hill was a hand movement in the shape of a hill, and Ladbrokes was a circular motion above the head. This enabled people to know who was laying what prices.

These days unfortunately Tic-Tac is a dying art, and is rarely used by betting shops or bookies due to the advent of technology – mobile phones, walkie talkies and handheld computers have made an impact on its necessity. These days the most punters are likely to see of Tic-Tac is John McCririck of Channel 4 racing who uses a slow-motion Tic-Tac. It is widely acknowledged that the late John O’Neill had a far wider grasp of esoteric betting terminology and is much missed. Ten years ago there would have been 100 tic-tacs at Royal Ascot, and these days you will only find two – if you’re lucky.

Some examples of tic-tac betting slang words include: Rock Cake – a small bet; Knock – to owe money and not pay up. Examples of bookies odds: Century – 100/1; Wrist – 5/4 and 3/1 – Carpet.