Tattersall's Lottery


Drawing the sweep at Tattersall's, 1879 (ALMFA, SLT)

Tattersall's Lottery evolved from the activities of publican George Adams, at his Tattersall's Hotel in George Street Sydney, where from 1881 he ran a sweepstakes lottery on the major horse races for the amusement of his sporting patrons, taking a percentage off the top for 'expenses'. As his sweeps, and others like them, became more popular, a backlash of protest from a growing anti-gambling lobby grew and they were banned in New South Wales in 1891, and subsequently in Queensland in 1895, after the main sweepstakes operators had moved to that state. Tasmanian Premier Braddon seized an opportunity to make an arrangement with Adams, offering him a monopoly on sweepstakes and lotteries in the state in return for disposing of the assets of the failed Van Diemen's Land Bank by sweepstakes, and a large licence fee.

Over the next half century the arrangement proved profitable to both sides, despite an attempt by the commonwealth government to ban the delivery of mail to Tattersall's. The lottery became a national institution, with subscribers from all states finding ways to defeat the commonwealth postal ban. Although Tattersall's had supplied the Tasmanian government with almost half of its total state revenue in the late 1930s, this figure had declined by the early 1950s and the government sought to increase its fees. In 1954 Victoria was able to offer the Adams estate a more attractive arrangement and so Tattersall's moved to Melbourne, where it continued to evolve over subsequent decades, particularly with the introduction of televised Tattslotto draws from 1972.

Further reading: Australian Institute for Gambling Research, Australian gambling, Melbourne, 1999; D Denholm, 'Tattersalls in Tasmania', THRAPP 13/3, 1966; J O'Hara, A mug's game, Sydney 1988; and 'Tattersall's bookies and Wrest Point', THRAPP 34/3, 1987; T Wilson, The luck of the draw, Melbourne, 1980.

John O'Hara