Tic-Tac Men at Epsom Races. June 1952
Tic-tac (also tick-tack and non-hyphenated variants) is a traditional method of signs used by bookmakers to communicate the odds of certain horses. It is still used in on-course betting in the UK. A tic-tac man will usually wear bright white gloves to allow their hand movements to be easily seen.
A few simple examples of signals:
Within the UK there are some regional variations in the signals, for example in the south odds of 6/4 are represented by the hand touching the opposite ear, giving the slang term “ear’ole”, whereas the same odds are indicated in the north by the hand touching the opposite elbow (“half arm”).
Essentially, bookmakers use tic-tac as a way of communicating between their staff and ensuring their odds are not vastly different from their competitors, an advantage the punters could otherwise exploit. In particular, 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.
British racing pundit John McCririck uses tic-tac as part of his pieces to camera when explaining the odds of the horses for the next race.
This method of communication is used less frequently than before, due in part to the use of radio communication by betting companies.