The TAB is considering offering the services of its nationwide IT infrastructure to businesses as diverse as lotteries and insurance companies.
The organisation is also hoping to secure a lucrative contract for monitoring gaming machines, currently under consideration by government. All this is a potential once the TAB network completes its cutover from older communications protocols to IP next year.
“Anything that needs a network is a potential project for us,” says project manager Alan Barlow. The TAB might even consider at some stage becoming an internet service provider, he says.
The IP development is part of a major recast of TAB systems, which will see the adoption of an industry-standard platform based on NT and Compaq. This will be the platform for the new core betting system, Jetbet II, but its flexible design will allow the TAB to expand into fresh business areas.
The punter and the operator at the TAB terminal will notice little difference in functionality initially with JetBet II – apart from a few more sophisticated bet-types such as quadrellas (selecting four race winners, a bet currently offered in Australia), shortly after it goes up.
Jetbet II is “more of a technical improvement at this stage than provision of new services to the customer,” says IT manager Stuart Cashen. “The old system was getting harder to put new things on.”
The old system was based on proprietary midrange machines originally supplied by Perkin-Elmer’s data processing division, now under the Concurrent brand.
The new set-up is expected to be ready by June next year.
Its architecture is centred on a master teleprocessor node to which a number of subsidiary nodes can be hooked, each supporting a different set of functions – a more flexible design than the existing one.
The TAB started an internet betting service in 1996 and has recently begun to offer short messages over Vodafone’s mobile phone network, giving brief details of races and results. WAP is naturally “of interest”, Cashen says, potentially allowing the customer to process transactions from a cellphone as well as receiving passive information.
Internet betting, while still a small proportion of betting volume, is growing fast, says Cashen. The number of hits on the website is increasing faster than the betting volume, he says; clearly customers are using the site as an information resource on the “form” of horses and sports teams.
A difference the customer may have noticed is the appearance of new locally designed and built customer access terminals. Those already deployed, through most of the North Island, are still behind the counter, but there will shortly be models for self-service including a model with the screen inside the cabinet rather than on top, for “social outlets” like pubs and clubs. Previous terminals were supplied from the US. The CATs were designed by TAB engineers and programmed in-house; they will be built by NCR in New Zealand.