The deathknell sounded for yet another custom this week, with the TAB hanging up the service which let punters place bets over the phone by talking to an operator. No longer will staff be waiting in Christchurch for an account holder to put their money to work. In some ways it is surprising that the racing agency had a call service in New Zealand, given that most phone queries these days seem to get routed to somewhere in Asia. The demise of the service, along with 43 jobs, coincides with the surge in online betting.

Like other operations swept aside by digital competition, the dwindling number of phone bet customers would seem to have left the Racing Board, which runs the TAB, with little option but to pull the plug.

Twenty-five years ago around 30 million calls were made to the service. Last year that had fallen to 2.5 million, as more and more bets got placed online. Tech-smart older gamblers have already gone the online way with nearly two thirds of those 65 or older using digital channels. Doubtless some elderly customers will be upset with the loss of the operators, given that the only phone users the TAB will accommodate are those able to produce a medical certificate exempting them from the new automated service. The TAB is a successful show, with turnover up 11.7 per cent last year. It is adjusting to the times, though it insists the network of TAB shops will survive the online onslaught. Perhaps, but you wouldn't want to bet on it.