Race fixing scandal looms in England; American jockey sues over ban

by | 04.17.2011 | 8:26am

Opponents of exchange wagering in the United States got some new ammunition to support their position via press reports in England that five jockeys are under investigation for advising a gang of internet gamblers to bet on their horses to lose.

According to reports, jockeys received 5,000 British pounds every time their horse would not win. The wagering scheme involved millions of British pounds, the reports said. The allegations were said to take place at small flat race meetings around the United Kingdom and have been going on for years.

British Horseracing Authority officials would not comment on the reports.

“Race fixing is a crime and any allegation must be investigated as such by both the horse racing authorities and the police, for the sake of the jockeys, the trainers, the punters and above all the hundreds of thousands of people who make their living through racing,” said Sir Peter Bottomley, a member of the Parliamentary All-Party Racing and Bloodstock Group. “Dishonesty in horse racing is fortunately rare and it must be kept that way.”

If found guilty, the jockeys would face bans of up to 20 years.

Exchange wagering, legalized in California and New Jersey but not yet implemented, allows gamblers to back or “lay” wagers on horses in an online betting market with other gamblers. A “lay” bet means that person is offering odds that a specific horse will lose. Exchange wagering companies like Betfair have actively assisted authorities in investigating charges of wrongdoing.

Fixing races by “holding” horses is nothing new and has been around long before exchange wagering platforms were created a decade ago. Past scandals in the United States often involved jockeys aboard betting favorites riding their mounts so as to wind up outside of the top three finishers in trifecta races, making it easier for gamblers to box the winning combinations.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Derek Bell has filed suit against Tampa Bay Downs, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau and its president, Frank Fabian, along with an unnamed TRPB agent, five years after Tampa Bay banned the track's one-time leading jockey from riding there.

Bell, one of seven riders ruled off at Tampa Bay in December 2006, claims the actions have prevented him from making a living. He now rides primarily in Minnesota. Of the seven riders banned, only one, Ricardo Valdes, has been indicted of criminal charges. Bell claims to have a letter signed by an assistant U.S. attorney that he was not a target of a criminal investigation.

“The most important fact from our perspective is that there is a statutory requirement that Mr. Bell be given notice and a hearing when he's been accused of prearranging the outcome of a race,” said Bell's attorney, Joe Tucker. “He was never given the right to defend himself. He was never shown what evidence they had against him. And that's just a fundamental American right that we believe Mr. Bell was denied.”

Bell's suit seeks a permanent injunction to life the ban, allowing him to resume riding at Tampa Bay Downs, along with compensatory and punitive damages.

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