Jockey Ejection Arguments Heard in WV Court

The two-year-old case stems from allegations of weigh-out fraud at Charles Town.

Parties in a two-year-old case involving the ejection of seven jockeys from Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races made their arguments Sept. 20 in the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

The jockeys, according to court documents filed by Charles Town owner Penn National Gaming Inc., were caught on video participating in a series of “farcical” weigh-outs after races in conjunction with the former clerk of scales at the racetrack.

The jockeys were each fined $1,000 and suspended for 30 days by Charles Town stewards but alleged lack of due process and requested a hearing before the West Virginia Racing Commission. In April 2009 the Circuit Court of Kanawha County granted the riders a temporary injunction allowing them to ride pending the hearing.

What resulted was a series of motions and hearings on the question of whether the WVRC, as state regulator, has a say when permit-holders are ejected from a racetrack, or whether the track, in this case Charles Town, has a common law right to exclude who it wants to protect its business.

West Virginia Sen. Carte Goodwin, an attorney representing PNGI, told the Supreme Court Sept. 20 the racetrack has the right to eject persons under common law. He noted the clerk of sales, also licensed by the WVRC, was terminated after the fraud was uncovered.

“The judicial system has thus far utterly failed to uphold the law, the rules of civil procedure, the rights of non-parties, the integrity of racing, and the public good,” PNGI said in a court brief. “The importance of fairness, transparency, and honesty in racing is of critical importance not only to the parties, but to the people of this state who derive millions of dollars in tax revenues annually from racetracks.”

Attorney Benjamin Bailey, representing the jockeys, said the riders are attempting to defend themselves against accusations in which “evidence shows no conspiracy or action to defraud.” He also said the “merits of the case are still pending” in court.

Kelli Talbott, a deputy attorney general who handles WVRC business for the state, said the common law argument by PNGI is no longer valid because it is based on 1800s English case law “that is no longer good law.” Talbott noted jockeys are independent contractors, and that when it comes to ejections, “patrons and permit-holders are two different classes of folks.”

Talbott said the WVRC would uphold or deny the ejections after what she called a “transparent hearing.”

The judges questioned the attorneys and centered their questions on the core issue: Does a racetrack have the right to run its business as it sees fit, or does the WVRC have a say? One of the Supreme Court judges offered that if the WVRC had no authority, racetracks could choose to toss anyone permit-holder off their property without good reason.

The seven jockeys in the case are Larry Reynolds, Anthony Mawing, Alexis Rios-Conde, Jesus Sanchez, Dale Whitaker, Luis Perez, and Tony Maragh.