The headline was definitely eye-catching
Penn National Race Track official pleads guilty in race rigging scheme
Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? Like someone was race fixing for the purposes of a betting coup.
Unfortunately, it was hardly that insidious. This comes from the Fox 43 web site.
Craig Lytel, 60, of Hershey, was an employee of Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Track (Penn National) who served as a racing official at the track. Lytel is charged with wire fraud. The United States Attorney alleges that Lytel was the recipient of an interstate wire transfer of $1,000 from a bank in Kentucky to his bank allegedly in exchange for providing inside information on the makeup of horse races at Penn National so that the trainers would know the composition of the race and enter their horses in races in which they have a better opportunity to win. It is alleged that Lytel deprived his employer of his honest service by accepting cash, dinners, gift cards and golf outings in exchange for the insider information. Lytel is licensed as a racing official at Penn National and falls under the rules and regulations that govern licensees with the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. He was privy to information concerning the horses entered in a race while the race entries are being filled by the racing office. This information gives a horse owner/trainer an advantage as to which race to enter their eligible horse in that it would give the horse a better chance of success. Such information, coupled with the knowledge of what other horses are in a given race, could also provide an opportunity for collusion on the behalf of owner/trainers or even determine if a race will be filled enough to run.
So the first thing that strikes me is, if the money transfer hadn’t come from out of state there was no federal crime committed. This Lytle guy should get a nickel in the pen for sheer stupidity. Plus, wire transfer? What they hell ever happened to cash in an envelope passed surreptitiously in a folded newspaper? Last I heard, there are hard records for wire transfers, while cash is, let’s say, not so traceable. The second thing that strikes me is that the FBI must have been hard pressed to pad the crime statistics that month. J. Edgar Hoover, who was well known for going to the races and getting “tips” on which horse to bet, must have been posthumously proud. Of course, that was in the good old days of racing when drug testing and wire transfers were in the stone age.
In fact, the $1,000 payoff was a clear indication that this was not solid gold information. More like copper. C’mon. Really big insider data had to be worth more than a yard.
I loved the last sentence in the Fox story. “Such information…could also provide an opportunity for collusion… [to] determine if a race will be filled enough to run.” It could probably give Putin propaganda to criticize the integrity of America too. In fact, by using the word “could” reporters could conjure up all sorts of heinous connections (you saw what I did there, didn’t you?).
Trainer A: I’ve got inside information. The race doesn’t look like it’s going to fill.
Trainer B: This is bad news indeed. Only one thing to do. Get the racing secretary to ask some trainers to help out.
Trainer A: Right. That was $1,000 well spent.
I shouldn’t be so tough on the FBI or Penn National. Usually the track is getting criticized for uglier transgressions, like trainers winning at 45% after a claim and everyone standing around shrugging their shoulders. But, if I was the decision-maker at Penn National, I’d simply have fired the guy quietly and made sure he never got a job in racing again. I mean, we have to keep the jails less crowded so the feds can put serious criminals away like the nefarious Martha Stewart. If nothing else, the amount of butter she uses in some of those recipes is definitely a crime.
Frankly, I never realized (1) telling someone which horses were entered in a race was a crime and (2) that information was actually worth money. I’ve heard every trainer tell me the racing secretary has called him in an effort to fill a race, sometimes even promising they will write a race for the trainer in return. This kind of informal bartering has been going on everywhere for ages. Perhaps the crime was taking money, dinner and golf instead of buying bagels or donuts for the racing office. It’s always a crime not to share the wealth with the rest of the staff so to speak.
My favorite story came from a trainer who was going to be suspended at a hearing scheduled a few days away. The racing secretary calls the trainer and asks him to enter some horses so some races would fill. The trainer tells the racing secretary he’s taking a forced vacation and the horses will have to be scratched. The racing secretary tells him he knows, but more important to get the races to go. And that apparently wasn’t a crime.
Racing has myriad problems, not the least of which is the perception that cheating of all sorts is rampant. Many tracks and racing commissions have adopted a policy of making sure they trumpet punishing any scofflaw in an effort to show the public they are serious about cleaning up the game. I’m not sure how much they deal with some issues quietly, but in this case the publicity was probably more harmful than good, especially when the news organizations resort to speculation and hyperbole. There are far more pressing issues into which racing should place greater enforcement effort.
As for Craig Lytel, perhaps he should have thought about whether racing would miss him more than he would miss racing.