The figure of the bookmaker occupies a special place in Australian society. In a culture which has historically sought to cut down the tall poppy, the man with the bag and the swagger on the stand represented a challenge to egalitarian ideals and a target for the masses on the betting ring floor.

From influential and controversial historical figures like John Wren to the three generations of Waterhouses who have courted punters and headlines in equal measure, the ‘bookie’ has added a competitive and promotional edge to the racing industry, helping turn if from ‘a sport of kings’ to an obsession of the working and middle classes.

Long before ‘gamification’ became a buzzword of sports executives, the battle between bookie and punter converted an equine athletic contest into a battle of human wits and wills. It energised interest in racing and helped make it, for a large part of the last 150 years, a national pastime.

It’s been a while since the betting ring thronged with the contest of bookies and punters, yet the industry, commercially at least, has continued to thrive. Now instead of taking on the man on the stand, punters are now in battle against their own devices, on apps hosted by global corporations, backed by algorithms and sophisticated marketing, which restrict those who can win and prime those who are destined to lose with bonus bets and boosted odds. Punters have never had it better, but in many ways, the contest has never been more uneven.

A generation who grew up with bookies as natural rivals are now confronted and affronted by an inundation of advertising which tells them that these corporate behemoths are a key part of their social network, a way to connect and share the fun with others. Their mates.