Big sporting figures face slings, arrows and jail time

Nov 1, 2005 1:12 AM

It was wild and wooly in the world of gaming and racing in recent days.

In Washington, a Texas representative, shooting from the hip, called the conduct of the president of the Jockeys’ Guild "a disgrace," and then essentially called him a liar.

In the capital of Illinois, the House voted to kill riverboat gambling, 15 years after it began operating.

In France, the director of the world’s greatest bicycle race, the Tour de France, started in on Lance Armstrong and drug use again, questioning the "credibility as a champion" of the winner of seven straight tours.

In Rhode Island, the former general manager of the Lincoln Downs greyhound track was sentenced to three years and five months in prison for bribery.

The Washington incident came in a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, where Texas congressman Joe Barton called Guild president Wayne Gertmenian’s conduct in running the Guild "a disgrace" and said the committee could find no verification of Germenian’s long standing contention that he was a shadowy agent with high secret missions during the Nixon and Ford administrations. During the hearing Hall of Fame Jockey Chris McCarron, the man who made Gertmenian president, called the move "my worst mistake." Then Ray Paulick, editor-in-chief of the weekly thoroughbred magazine Blood-Horse, called Gertmenian "a bully who finally met his match in the halls of Congress. Paulick wrote that Gertmenian "brought what he thought would be hapless ”˜yes men and women’ onto the board and into leadership positions, then manipulated the membership and its finances to do as he pleased." Gertmenian receives a $165,000 a year salary and the Guild also pays his company, Matrix Capital Associates, $335,000 a year. Daily Racing Form says Gertmenian is the firm’s owner and sole employee.

In Illinois, the House voted, 67-42, to outlaw the state’s ten riverboat casinos, the speaker saying they were producing huge amounts of money for a few people. It is likely to be a symbolic vote only, as the president of the Senate made clear when he said, "The Senate is a very responsible body. It doesn’t do irresponsible things. Riverboat gambling provides about $780 million for schools every year. How is that revenue going to be replaced? I can’t see a member voting to take money away from their schoolchildren."

The French blast at Armstrong came after a 1999 preserved blood test, subjected to new testing, supposedly showed he used EPO, the blood booster. The president of the Tour de France, which Armstrong has won an unprecedented seven straight times, starting in the disputed 1999 race, said, "What we have learned has increased the lassitude toward him. He was not unapproachable in’99. EPO is a doping product. So this tempers and dilutes his performances and his credibility as a champion." There was mention that we could find about any tainted victories in the six years following 1999, and Armstrong still vehemently denies using drugs. A Dutch lawyer has been appointed to conduct an independent investigation. Armstrong fired back, saying the Tour president, Jean-Marie Leblanc, "claims the Tour deserves a better fate; I believe it deserves a better leader." But the cloud remains, and Armstrong could, under the pressure, reconsider his retirement and go back for an eighth championship to try to clear his name.

In Rhode Island, Dan Bucci, the veteran former general manager of Lincoln Downs, saw his career go up in smoke. He got almost three and a half years for conspiring to bribe the speaker of the Rhode Island House to block a Narragansett Indian bid for a casino, and add 1,000 slots to Lincoln Downs, by funneling a payment of $4 million through a track attorney who was the speaker’s law partner. No bribe payment was ever made, but a paper trail led to Bucci and Nigel Potter, the former chief executive of Wembley PLC, which owned the track. Potter was given three years by U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi, who said Bucci received a more severe sentence because it was clear to her "that Mr. Bucci was the instigator of these offenses." Wembley PLC, which sold the track in July, was fined $1.5 million. The speaker and his law partner were not charged.

It’s rough out there in the real world. Wear body armor.