End of an era for long-standing franchisee
THE end of an era was on the cards for Alison Harrington but it has come one year earlier than expected.
Alison's world was turned upside down last month when she found out her contract at the Dawson Rd Ubet agency would not be renewed.
She has operated the TAB agency since December 1998 and on May 29 the doors will close forever.
Say what you like about gambling, but the closure of another small business in Gladstone is never a good thing.
"Gladstone isn't exactly booming at the moment so turnover has been down and because of that - and I've had a few bad months - they decided not to renew my contract," Alison said.
"It's up to (Tabcorp) and it always comes down to turnover.
"I'm heartbroken... absolutely devastated. I would have at least liked another year.
"Twenty-one years is a long time and before that I had three years at Tannum Sands.
"There's more to the TAB than just taking bets.
"I help people with filling out tickets, signing them up for online, solve their problems when they come from the pub because the pubs don't know a lot about how the system works."
When you've worked six days a week, holidays excluded, at the same business it's always going to tug at the heartstrings.
Tears have been shed by Alison, 65.
She said retirement was in the pipeline next year but bowing out early was tough.
"I'm not going on Newstart and I'm not going to sit around at home and mope - I'm going to travel," she said.
"I'm going to Vietnam, Egypt, Peru, Abu Dhabi where my daughter is, and Finland. I'll be 66 next year so I can retire then but I would have liked to have left on my own terms...
"If it was next year it wouldn't have been so bad."
Only moments after discussing her travel plans one of Alison's regulars, Keith, walks in to check his Keno tickets.
Alison asks him how his wife is and wishes him the best as he leaves to return again next fortnight.
"That's the problem and what I'm worried about," she said referring to Keith.
"He just does Keno and comes in every second Thursday.
"We have a group of people who come in every Saturday, mainly single men and some of them are married.
"They come here because this is their love.
"They love not just racing but horses.
"They have their own little group and it's their social outing for the week.
"They talk breeding, trainers or 'beautiful breeding' according to one of my punters or 'have a bet on this one'.
"Where are they going to go?
"Pubs are noisy and they won't be able to listen to their horses and sit in a group and discuss it.
"That's why I think there's still a place for free-stand TABs. I'm not making a lot of money out of this - Tabcorp are the owners and I'm like the franchisee.
"Most of my punters I've had since day one."
Alison has seen some huge wins throughout her 21 years, memories she'll never forget.
"One of the highest cheques I've written was for $217,500 and that was a lady on the (2008) Melbourne Cup," she said.
"Melbourne Cup's are the big ones and she had a First 4. She had her four (horse) numbers picked out and one was scratched so she threw an extra number in and got the First 4.
"My worst Melbourne Cup was 2010 - I opened at 6.30am and was serving people and the power went off and it was off until 10am.
"It was an absolute nightmare. I had people everywhere and it was so hot with no air-conditioning and it was full of punters trying to wait for the power to come back on because everything goes down so you can't put any bets on.
"The majority of my regular customers sat and waited and others that couldn't bet left bets with us and we put the bets on for them when the power came back on - that's the difference, they trusted me.
"Another time there was one punter who did an All Up and outlaid $20 - he had four races and the cheque I wrote for him was $167,000.
"Lots of people do sports multi bets and they are becoming very popular but I haven't paid many out."
Alison said she'll miss her "little family" immensely once the closed sign goes up next month.
And she became teary while thanking her employees Jude and Mark, and all of her customers.
"I hope they do well and I wish them well," she said.
"I've loved it, I really have - the good and the bad."