A British police investigation into race fixing culminated today with the arrests of 16 individuals, including a trainer, six-time champion jockey Kieren Fallon and two other jockeys. Betfair, the U.K.-base betting exchange, played an instrumental role in the investigation.
". . . Now that it is out in the open, and people realize that actually we've been working on this very hard for our own good and the good of the sport for some time, I think people are starting to realize that we're not a problem but a potential solution to the problem."
- Mark Davies
A memorandum of understanding signed in late 2002 allows the U.K. Jockey Club to view Betfair's audit trail to investigate suspicious activity on the exchange. Evidence gathered by the Jockey Club from Betfair's records and turned over to the City of London Police led to today's arrest. The allegations tied to the raids are believed to involve over 80 races over the last two years.
Paul Scotney, the Jockey Club's director of security, said the investigation goes back several months.
"Earlier this year it became apparent that what had started out as an investigation into possible breaches of the rules of racing had uncovered evidence which indicated criminal activity which could undermine the integrity of horse racing," Scotney explained. "Consequently, we decided to refer the matter to the City Of London Police. Our decision also took account of the fact that the Jockey Club has no powers of search or arrest and has very limited powers when investigating individuals not bound by the rules of racing.
"Ever since the City Of London Police took the case on, the investigation has been wholly in their hands. The Jockey Club has assisted the police when requested and acted as a conduit for information and intelligence relating to the investigation."
Over 130 officers raided 19 addresses across Suffolk, Hertfordshire, North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire at dawn, making 16 arrests and confiscating significant evidence.
"We have amassed a large amount of information, including computer records and documentation seized today, and will now commence the detailed task of examining it all," Steve Wilmott, detective chief superintendent of City of London Police, said.
City Of London Police Assistant Commissioner Mike Bowron added, "We are very pleased to have taken the lead role in this operation, which spans the whole of the country. This case is of great national significance, not just to the racing community, but to the wider public throughout the U.K."
Today's arrests bring the already tattered public perception of British racing's integrity into question yet again. As John McCririck, one of the England's best known racing pundits, stated on Sky television, "It is the image of racing that suffers. We have the position with athletics and with swimming that whenever a record is broken, people think, 'What drugs are they on?' That's what you think of straight away, rather than, 'What a fantastic achievement.' People will be asking, 'Was that race crooked?' and, 'Was that horse trying?' That has been the cry down the centuries about horseracing, but now it has been brought into these lurid headlines once again."
These days betting exchanges stand out as the focal point of most discussions regarding corruption in British racing. On one hand, the exchanges claim their transparent transactions are essential to detecting and combating corruption. They hail today's arrests as an example of how betting exchanges can keep racing clean by exposing corruption.
Opponents of betting exchanges, however, argue that by allowing individuals to lay horses to lose, exchanges open the doors for jockeys, trainers and others tied to the sport to benefit bet against a horse they know will lose, or worse yet, to intentionally throw the race.
The Association of British Bookmakers, perhaps the staunchest foe of betting exchanges in the United Kingdom, stated today that it is "concerned about the adverse impact the arrest of the champion jockey, two other jockeys, a trainer and a number of other individuals will have on the good reputation of horseracing and on public confidence in the sport and in betting. . . . Without wishing to anticipate charges those arrested may [or may not] face, the ABB has consistently warned the government and the Jockey Club that the ability of betting exchange customers to act as unlicensed bookmakers without revealing their identities to punters is the equivalent of the sport sitting on a smoldering powder keg.
"For the betting exchanges to say that cases of alleged corruption would not be identified but for the excellence of their audit trails is akin to a householder leaving his doors and windows wide open and then claiming credit for reporting a burglary."
Betfair spokesman Mark Davies holds a different point of view.
"People have said we have been sitting on our hands for the last couple of years," Davies said. "They say there is an increase in corrupt activity, and Betfair is doing nothing about it. And we've been able to say nothing because we've been gathering information on behalf of the authorities. And now that it is out in the open and people realize that actually we've been working on this very hard for our own good and the good of the sport for some time, I think people are starting to realize that we're not a problem but a potential solution to the problem."
Rob Hartnett, CEO of Irish betting exchange Betdaq, also seems to view today's events optimistically.
"The ability of an online company to monitor all the bets and attribute every single bet to every single account holder as they place a bet does actually enable the authorities to take a much more granular look at what has actually happened," Hartnett told the BBC. "If you walk into a betting shop and you place a bet and walk out, there's no record that you have placed that bet in any shape or form. With an online exchange, there is a record of every bet struck, and all the betting exchanges have worked with the Jockey Club and other sporting authorities to make sure that the sport is run properly and cleanly."
He added, "Hopefully, even though there may be some short-term pain after the arrests that have taken place this morning, in the longer term I think people's view is that the sport is clean and well run and well managed.”
The Jockey's Association, meanwhile, has pledged to support the three jockeys--Kieren Fallon, Fergal Lynch and Darren Williams--arrested today. CEO John Blake told Sky News, "We represent all the professional jockeys in the country and are offering support to the jockeys as we speak, although I don't actually know where two of them are being held. As soon as that information is released we will ensure that they are represented straight away."
Fallon, a six-time champion jockey who has won the Epsom Derby the last two years, is one of racing's most revered jockeys. He has been under public suspicion, however, since March, when he failed to ride out a victory in a race he was favored to win. It was later revealed that Betfair had contacted the Jockey Club shortly before the race to report suspicious betting patterns.