Horse Racing Bookie Hand Signs Explained

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A small group of racehorses racing around a corner.
BetMGM @BETMGM Jan 13, 2023, 12:54 PM

Online sports betting fans waiting to see the results of a horse race in the UK would not be surprised if they saw a person wearing white gloves at the track making strange hand gestures. It may be less common than it used to be, but these people are horse racing bookies and their hand signals serve a very important purpose. 

In this blog, we’ll unpack what the purpose of these hand signals is, take a closer look at some of the most common gestures, what they mean and discuss some of the slang bookies use.

Why do bookies use these hand signals

For people who enjoy horse racing betting and watching horse races in person, it used to be common practice to see bookies use hand signals to convey information about the odds they have on offer to other people that they’re working with at a race. Using hand gestures meant they didn’t have to shout to share information and had the added advantage of not letting gamblers know what they were communicating if there was a change in odds. Often, bookies using these gestures wore white gloves to make their hands more visible. This communication style was referred to as “tic-tac” and the bookies who make the gestures, the “tic-tac men”.

This system had the added benefit of allowing other bookies to bring their odds in line with their competitors and the odds they were offering. But this was only if a competing bookie had managed to figure out the meaning of another bookie’s hand signals. That’s right, many bookies would try to disguise their communications to avoid their competitors getting a hint of any big bets or changes in odds. 

While you may from time to time still see a bookie use these gestures, many now use mobile phones instead. Although this once popular communication tool has been almost entirely replaced by a simpler and more effective technological solution, you may still spot the odd UK bookie keeping this old tradition alive.

A list of gestures that bookies use

If you do happen to spot a bookie who still uses these hand signals and you want to know what they are trying to communicate, here are some of the most common gestures you might see:

  • 2/1 odds: The bookie touches their nose with the right hand. 
  • 3/1 odds: The bookie places their hand flat below their chin with the palm facing down.
  • 5/4 odds: The bookie places their right hand on top of their left wrist.
  • 7/4 odds: The bookie moves their right hand over their left shoulder.
  • 11/8 odds: The bookie slides their right hand up their left arm.
  • 13/8 odds: The bookie takes their right hand and places it behind their left ear, then stretches their hand out in front of themselves.
  • 11/10 odds: The bookie reaches out with both arms and places them together with the fingers touching
  • Even odds: The bookie points their arms outwards and with their forefingers extended. They then move one arm up while they move the other arm down. They then alternate their arms in the opposite direction.

Some of the slang used by bookies

While the most obvious thing you’ll notice is the gloves and hand movements, tic-tac communication wasn’t just limited to signs. It also involved some spoken slang. Many bookies used their own words, but there were some terms that bookies commonly used. 

A few examples of popular slang terms used in tic-tac communication are:

  • 2/1 odds: Bottle
  • 3/1 odds: Carpet
  • 5/4 odds: Tips
  • 7/4 odds: Shoulder
  • 11/8 odds: Up the arm
  • 13/8 odds: Unlucky
  • 11/10 odds: Wrist
  • Even odds: Levels, you devils.

Not all of the slang they used was just for odds. Here are a few examples of some of the other words they used:

  • Beeswax: Betting tax
  • Jolly: A favorite horse in the race
  • Monkey: £500
  • Poney: £25
  • Ton: £100

Place your horse racing bets with NYRA and BetMGM

We hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of UK bookie culture and history. But something that isn’t history is the great online sports betting you can enjoy with NYRA Bets and BetMGM. At our online sportsbook we offer a variety of bets for different types of horse racing to suit your betting style and bankroll. 

We also provide great resources to help you learn more about horse racing and horse race betting. Discover more about topics such as jockeys to watch, horse racing bets explained, strategy tips for betting on horses and how to read horse racing odds at our horse racing blog

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.