At some point during most Breeders' Cup weekends, at least one race will be won by a horse most people threw out. When a longshot sticks a nose in front, no one is happier than the victorious horseplayer. There was at least one occasion, however, when a big upset proved three bettors' downfall.
In 2001, an Autotote programmer named Chris Harn noticed a vulnerability in the company's computer system. Harn, then 29, realized that a number of winning tickets are never cashed, or not cashed for a period of days or weeks. In fact, New York state alone took back $7.5 million per year in uncashed tickets. How simple it would be, Harn thought, to counterfeit those unclaimed wins and cash them.
Harn knew he couldn't make bets or cash tickets himself without creating suspicion, so he called upon two friends to help him and share in the profits. He asked former Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity brothers Derrick Davis and Glen DaSilva, fellow graduates of Drexel University a few years before, to go in on his scheme. He would make copies of the winning tickets' barcodes and graft them onto tickets for various amounts, from hundreds to thousands of dollars and distribute them to Davis and DaSilva to cash. They would later admit they made at least $92,000 with forged unclaimed win tickets.
In 2002, Harn discovered something else — there was a lag between an Off-Track Betting (OTB) facility's collection of multi-race wager information and the transmission of that information to Autotote. This meant he could alter tickets before the complete series of races were run without his employer being wise to the change, as long as he did his editing at the right time. All Harn had to do was tap into the Autotote system through his work computer, alter a preexisting ticket so that it had the first several winners in a sequence singled, and then bet all for the last races in the sequence, and the ticket would be guaranteed to win.
The trio decided to test their plan a few weeks before the 2002 Breeders' Cup; prosecutors would later discover that DaSilva won a Pick Four at Balmoral Park on Oct. 3 and on Oct. 5 collected six figures in a Belmont Park Pick Six.
Both bets went through the Catskill OTB's website, which Harn knew from his experience at Autotote had no way to record wagers as they came in, minimizing the chances anyone would realize a change had been made.
After their dress rehearsal, the three friends repeated the same exercise when the Breeders' Cup was held at Arlington on Oct. 26. This time, Davis placed the bets: six $2 tickets in the Breeders' Cup Pick Six, which Harn edited after the fourth race in the sequence.
It's hard to say whether the group would have gotten away with the scheme if a favorite had won, but as it happened, the Classic was won by Volponi at a staggering 43-1. Davis held the only winning tickets, which turned out to be worth $3.1 million.
Almost immediately, track officials were suspicious. It was odd, they agreed, that Davis had singled four out of six horses and then played the same ticket six times. It was also strange to see all six tickets go through Catskill OTB, which was a small operation.
Initially, Davis tried to claim the bet was legitimate – he meant to wager $2. His $12 bet was a happy accident, he told the media.
In the end, despite the group's best efforts, there was a fairly obvious trail of breadcrumbs pointing to a conspiracy. Harn had come into work on Oct. 26 even though he wasn't scheduled to do so, and his computer could be seen accessing the Breeders' Cup Pick Six tickets after the fourth race in the series had finished. Investigators had phone records, showing Davis was calling Harn during the Pick Six series, and an Autotote employee saw Harn taking cell phone calls that afternoon while his computer was accessing Catskill's website. The most damning evidence was probably an Oct. 25 email in which Harn asked DaSilva to send checks to pay off his car and his second mortgage.
Soon, the winning wager became known in the press as the Breeders' Cup Fix Six.
By Halloween 2002, Harn had been fired from Autotote, and by mid-November, the group faced federal charges. Harn pleaded guilty on Nov. 21 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire/computer fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Davis and DaSilva were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire/computer fraud.
In the end, Harn was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison, while Davis received 37 months and DaSilva two years. The payoff (which was never handed over to Davis) was ultimately redistributed as a consolation prize to bettors who had five of six horses correct on their tickets.
The scandal rocked industry confidence in wagering security and prompted the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to demand changes from tote companies. The NTRA also put pressure on racetracks to avoid using wagering companies that would not change their software to close the gap, and also urged tracks and racing organizations to become more proactive about their review of data. The scandal also highlighted the importance of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB), which to this day focuses the attention of its investigative team on wagering security.
A detail that many racing fans and horseplayers will claim unsurprising – TRPB president Paul Berube, in an interview with The Baltimore Sun in late 2002, said tote companies had been warned about the vulnerability in their computer systems before the Fix Six scandal.
“It sent a chill through me,” Berube said. “They all but acknowledged the problem, but said it was too expensive to fix.”
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