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The skill of the electrical engineer and the experience amassed by the telephone engineer have made possible the design of a complex instrument to which vast sums of money are safely entrusted every day

CONTROL SWITCHBOARD for a totalisator installation at a greyhound racecourse

CONTROL SWITCHBOARD for a totalisator installation at a greyhound racecourse. The small switchboard near the centre of the illustration controls the operation of the entire apparatus. Keys on this board control signal lamps at the ticket issuing booths; other keys lock the apparatus electrically; and switches, controlled by a lock, start and stop the operation of the whole totalisator.

OF the countless thousands of enthusiasts who visit the racecourses all over Great Britain and who patronize the totalisator from time to time, few can have any knowledge of the engineering problems that have been conquered in its design.

To many the totalisator is merely a betting machine — a complicated counterpart of a cash register. To others, perhaps, there is something uncanny about a machine which can deal with a subject so complicated as betting, and which can return, with unquestioned accuracy, the correct dividends on a number of transactions of varied character.

The totalisator, however, is far more than this. It is an achievement of the electrical engineer, which, for ingenuity and intricacy, may justly be compared with the automatic telephone system. The experience of automatic telephone engineers has made the totalisator possible, and it comprises well-known pieces of apparatus which have been in general use in automatic telephony for many years.

The totalisator was first introduced to the public in Great Britain when it was legalized in 1928. It was at that time described as “a machine for keeping a check on the number of tickets issued in connexion with a horse race” — a somewhat inadequate description of the modern apparatus.

The modern electric totalisator consists of three essential components linked together. They are the ticket issuing machine, the collecting and adding equipment and the indicator. The ticket issuing machine may be multiplied almost without limit but, however many machines are installed, they all work in conjunction with the same collecting and adding equipment. The indicator, too, is duplicated or multiplied, but all the indicators will work “in unison”, and they may therefore be treated as one single piece of apparatus.

The ticket issuing machines are in the hands of operators who accept stakes from the public. Such stakes are recorded, not only on the ticket which is issued to the newly-made shareholder, but also by the “Tote”. The collecting and adding equipment is aware, from one moment to the next, of what is going on at the ticket issuing booths all over a racecourse.

The indicators show the public how the betting is proceeding at any moment and, when the race is over, show the number of the winner and the dividend declared. No mathematical work is done by a human brain until the final working out of the dividend is necessary, and that is carried out in a few seconds.

The ticket issuing machines are robust pieces of apparatus resembling, in some ways, a cash register. For the sake of simplicity this chapter will deal with the type of totalisator used at dog-racing tracks, which has to make provision for only six runners. The ticket machine is operated by a sliding knob which is moved horizontally along a slot until it is opposite an aperture corresponding to the selected runner. If a “win” bet is to be made, the knob is then moved upwards; if a “place” bet, downwards. This simple action is all that is necessary to start the registration of a bet.

LAMP INDICATOR UNITS for the display of a single digit. At the front of each unit (above) are twenty-four lamps, which light in accordance with the current impulses passed to the group of control relays (left). A complete indicator board may comprise some hundreds of these units.

The knob is connected mechanically to the printing mechanism which is incorporated in the ticket issuing machine; it is connected also to electrical signalling contacts which are linked by an electrical circuit to the collecting and adding equipment.

When a bet is recorded, an impulse is transmitted over this circuit, and no ticket can be issued by the machine until a signal has been received back from the collecting and adding equipment to show that the signal has been received at that end and the bet duly registered. The average time taken for this return signal to arrive is less than one-tenth of a second.

The issuing machine prints on the ticket the name of the racecourse, the date and code word of the day of issue, the number of the machine, the value of the stake, the word “win” or “place”, the race number and the number of the runner upon which the bet has been made. The machine contains a roll of blank paper upon which the tickets are printed, and the tickets are automatically severed from the roll before they are ejected.

From the very nature of the “Tote”, it will be appreciated that every possible kind of breakdown must be guarded against. Suppose, for instance, that the supply of paper in one of the ticket issuing machines were to fail. A stake would be accepted, but no ticket could be issued. This contingency is guarded against by an ingenious piece of apparatus which makes it impossible to operate any part of the machine until the supply of paper has been replenished.

“Brain” of the Machine

To simplify the task of individual operators, each ticket issuing machine is designed to deal with stakes of one denomination only. In Great Britain, machines are generally provided for stake values of 2s., 10s., £1, £10 and £100.

The number of tickets issued by any machine on the “win” and “place” pools and the total number of tickets issued are registered by counters of the cyclometer type behind apertures in the face-plate of the machine, and the totals so recorded provide a check on the indicator readings and on the cash taken by the operators.

The operator cannot interfere with the ticket issuing machine in any way. He is restricted to the simple tasks of moving the knob to the required position and issuing a printed ticket. He cannot even gain access to any part of the machine except that in which the roll of paper and the inking duct are contained. This part of the apparatus is separate from the printing and operating mechanism.

As a race starts, all the ticket issuing machines are automatically locked from the central control board. Once the locking signal has been transmitted over the lines, it is impossible for any further tickets to be issued on the race in question. It is in the design of such parts of the apparatus that the electrical engineer has found real scope for his ingenuity — and ingenious devices are found all over the “Tote”.

To make certain that a ticket issuing machine is in perfect working order, a “test” position is provided. When the operating knob is placed in this position the machine will issue test tickets with no runner number printed on them. Such tickets are not recorded on the counting apparatus and no signal is transmitted to the adding equipment when this operation is carried out.

BAND TYPE INDICATOR, the figures on which are carried by a flexible band driven by an electric motor. The motor is started and stopped by signal impulses transmitted from a distance.

The ticket issuing machine is portable, and its electrical connexions are made by a plug and jack which facilitate easy installation or removal from place to place. The machines are housed in special buildings in each enclosure round the track, in the clubroom and in any convenient position. The electrical nature of the apparatus makes it possible for the machines to be distributed in this way, at almost any convenient distance from the calculating equipment. It is not even necessary to supply separate cable connexions between each machine and the adding equipment. By an ingenious arrangement a single group of cables may be shared by a number of machines without any loss of speed or reliability.

The collecting and adding equipment is the vital part — the “brain” — of the totalisator, and its design has been made possible by the perfection of two components which have stood the test of several years’ use in automatic telephone exchanges. These components are the electro-magnetic relay and the uniselector or rotary switch. The relays perform their normal duty of changing an electrical impulse into a mechanical movement; they collect the “bet” signals as they come along the lines from the ticket issuing machines and transfer these signals to the adding machines.

In a telephone exchange a rotary switch receives the impulses from a subscriber’s line and searches round a group of lines until it finds an unengaged one. In the “Tote” it rotates, one step at a time, as it receives impulses from the associated relays; it counts these impulses and operates the indicators in accordance with the number of impulses which it receives.

Each adding machine consists of a counter somewhat similar to a simple cyclometer, but with one important difference. It responds instantly, not only to signals in single units, but also to signals representing five, ten, a hundred or a thousand units. The “unit” stake is 2s., and this is represented by a single impulse. Thus ail the ticket issuing machines in a booth given over to 2s. stakes are so designed that they transmit a single impulse for each ticket issued.

Reliability and accuracy are essential to the totalisator. Even a modern relay may not be infallible, and for this reason every relay in the apparatus is provided with duplicate contacts which are connected in parallel. All switches used are of the heavy-duty type, well able to stand up to continual use without weakening of springs or burning of contacts. All magnet coils on the relays are so designed that excessive rise of temperature is impossible. Metal dust-covers protect all the delicately adjusted apparatus from the atmosphere. Relays and uniselectors are mounted in huge banks on vertical racks, so arranged that both the front and the back are readily accessible. Automatic “routining” is carried out from time to time. This takes the form of a test with predetermined numbers, to ascertain that the adding machines are working correctly throughout.

Visible at 300 Yards

All the adding machines are connected by cables to the electric indicators, which give a continuous indication of the number of bet units staked on each runner in the coming race. They show also the totals for all the runners, and they do this continuously from the moment the first ticket is sold until the race starts and the betting is closed. Any number of indicators can be connected in parallel — several at different points round the track, smaller ones in the club room, and many miniature indicators for the information of the operating staff.

Two main types of indicators are used. One is entirely electrical and uses lamps. The other is electromechanical. The lamp type is used for the large indicator boards in the public enclosures. It is built up of a series of units, each of which resembles the programme indicator which is found in innumerable theatres and music-halls.

Each of these units comprises a nest of electric lamps, generally twenty-four in number, all mounted in separate cells in a metal box. These lamps are so arranged that they may be lit in selected combinations to represent any digit from 1 to 9, or 0. They are controlled by groups of relays, these relays being controlled by the adding machines. The display faces of the lamps are generally covered in fine gauze, which prevents confusing reflections from the unlit bulbs and enables the indicators to be read in sunlight.

The lamps are generally under-run, but it is possible from the control position to vary the voltage applied to them. Thus in conditions of bright sunlight it is possible to increase the illumination sufficiently to make the indicators easy to read. After dark considerably less power is needed for the lamps. Indicators of this type have no moving parts other than the small armatures of the controlling relays which switch the current supply to the appropriate lamps.

TICKET ISSUING APPARATUS with cover removed. The vertical lever in the centre is operated by a sliding knob (see illustration below). On the right are the electric signalling contacts, and on the left is the printing mechanism. These are interlocked in such a way that it is impossible for the machine to signal a bet on one runner and issue a ticket for another. The knob locks itself in position until an impulse has been received back from the adding equipment to show that the bet has been registered.

Electro-mechanical indicators, as used on smaller boards, are ingenious pieces of apparatus on which the ten figures are carried on a flexible band. This band is driven by a small electric motor. When an impulse is transmitted to one of these indicators the motor starts up and moves the band along by the necessary number of spaces. The starting and stopping positions are controlled by the position of the band, so that it always centres itself properly and leaves no doubt about the figure which is being displayed.

All the figures are displayed on a perfectly flat surface and cannot mask one another. The board can be viewed from almost any angle, and each unit displays a figure almost as large as the surface area occupied by the entire unit.

The sizes in which these electromechanical indicators can be made vary considerably. In some instances the figures are not more than 1½ in. high; in others they are as large as 17 in. Miniature indicators are often built up from groups of small lamps arranged to illuminate selected figures in a stencilled plate. The lamps are arranged in two banks of five, the top row giving the figures 1 to 5 and the bottom row 6 to 0. Although the whole series of figures is there, no figure can be seen until the lamp behind it is illuminated.

The complete indicator boards consist of scores, or even hundreds, of indicator units, of whichever type is the most suitable. The main indicators for the information of the public are huge boards, placed in commanding positions and visible at distances up to 300 yards. They are generally divided into three sections. “Win” bets are shown on the left, “place” bets on the right, and grand totals above. At the top of the indicator is displayed the number of the race on which betting is proceeding. The central portion displays the dividends.

This network of complicated apparatus — ticket machines, adding equipment and indicator boards — is all controlled from a central switchboard. On this board are keys for the control of coloured signal lamps near the ticket issuing machines. The operators of these machines are given various instructions from time to time by means of lamp signals, and the controller at the central switchboard has before him a row of “tell-tale” indicators which show him that the men have received their instructions and have acted upon them.

Safeguards Against Breakdowns

He may press a button which lights an amber lamp at each group of ticket machines. The operators signal back that they have noted this signal by pressing buttons near the lamp. As they do this a row of amber lamps lights up at the control switchboard. Until the last of these has appeared, the operation in question is delayed.

At the control board there are also keys for locking the ticket issuing machines, and other keys by which certain adding machines can be put into operation and others kept out of action. There are also switches for starting and stopping the operation of the entire totalisator. All switches of this kind are under the control of a “Yale” type lock, of which the key is guarded by one authorized person. No one else can operate the apparatus.

Many other operations have to be provided for. All the indicators have to be set back to zero at the end of a race. Sometimes it is necessary to suppress “place” betting on a particular race. Several groups of controls are electrically interlocked to prevent interference or damage by accidental faulty operation of the switchboard.

The relays and uniselectors are of such a design that they require direct current for their operation, and the power demands of a large totalisator may be high. Power is taken from the external mains, but it is largely used to drive direct-current generators which deliver power at 50 or 100 volts. Banks of accumulators are also used, as a safeguard against possible breakdown. Such accumulators are put on charge when the apparatus is not in use, or they may be used “floating” — that is, the generators and the accumulators are in circuit all the time.

The accumulators also enable routine testing to be carried out without the necessity for starting up the main generator. Other elaborate precautions are taken against breakdown, most of them being of the drastic variety which simply locks the apparatus and makes it impossible to operate anything until the fault has been cleared.

It is difficult to look upon the totalisator as one large piece of apparatus, as it is built up of units of many different types. Complete coordination between these units is achieved, however, by the high standard which has been reached in the design of electrical apparatus. The flexibility of the entire scheme could not be attained with any motive power other than electricity.

TYPICAL TICKET BOOTH, with the ticket machines placed near the selling windows. These machines print full particulars on the ticket blanks with which they are stocked, and they also register every bet with the collecting and adding equipment. They are operated by moving the knob until it is opposite a pair of slots corresponding to the selected runner, and then upfora win or down for a place.

You can read more on “Calculating Machines”, “Electrical Research Work” and “Modern Telephone Exchanges” on this website.

Electric Totalisator