More than 50 long-serving TAB workers look set to lose their jobs as the agency prepares to close its Auckland phone betting centre at Ellerslie.
The workers have put in a submission through the Service and Food Workers Union asking the agency to keep the 27 Auckland employees who want to stay on, instead of hiring 25 new staff to replace them in the two remaining phone betting centres in Wellington and Christchurch.
But the Racing Board, which owns the TAB, says it will save $1 million a year by selling its Ellerslie building for about $3 million, closing the Auckland phone operation and hiring half as many extra staff within existing facilities in the other two centres.
Board media manager John Mitchell said the board would pay relocation costs for any Auckland staff willing to move south.
But he said 22 of the 54 Auckland staff were aged 65 or over. Most others have worked at Ellerslie for many years and can't move easily only a few years before retirement.
Karen Fletcher, a 56-year-old widow who has worked there for 26 years, said her son and daughter-in-law were still living with her "because they have no money".
"A lot of us are older. As you get older it gets harder to get another job," she said.
"I started here when my children were preschoolers. The people I have worked next to know everything about my family, our families have grown up together."
Joy Donohoe, who is in her seventies, has worked for the TAB since six months after the birth of her eldest child 45 years ago.
"We are like a family," she said.
Lil Webb, 65, has worked there for 15 years and still needs the job to pay her rent.
Noel Monaghan, who turns 65 in July, has worked for 16 years on the "VIP line" and knows most of his customers personally.
"They will just say 'Gidday Noel' as soon as I come on. They know my voice," he said.
The workers are casualties of a shift from phone betting to the internet and web-linked smartphones. Phone betting has slumped from two-thirds of internet-plus-phone betting in 2007 to one-third last year.
Racing Board profits dropped slightly last year as betting declined on its most profitable product, domestic totalisator racing.
Betting on fixed-odds domestic racing, sports and overseas racing are all growing strongly, but cost more to run than the domestic tote.
On top of that, the board has logged a $14.3 million loss on a new "Typhoon" betting system which did not work and has been abandoned.
Despite these setbacks, Mr Monaghan said administrative staff had moved from Ellerslie to "a real yuppie building" in Parnell.
"If they can hire a new yuppie building in Parnell, they can hire another building somewhere around here [for phone betting]," he said.
But Mr Mitchell said the Parnell building was rent-free for this financial year and would then cost only $100,000 a year, compared with operating costs for the Ellerslie building of $150,000 a year plus "prohibitive" future costs for removing asbestos and other work.
He said the board's total staff numbers had dropped from 970 last September to 921 on Friday, but there were "no plans at this point" for any further cuts beyond the net cut of 29 in phone betting.