Common sense got trampled during Derby scalping sting

This Just In...

June 02, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

WHAT WE HAVE HERE, once again, is a ticket scalping nightmare and, once again, I ask the question: Why do police waste their time on this stuff? In most of life, you buy something at a certain price and, if you don't use that certain something or don't need that certain something, then you try to sell it -- for more than the purchase price, assuming there's a demand -- and it's legal.

It's supply and demand -- a basic economics lesson from Father Guido Sarducci's Twenty-Minute University.

But when we get to tickets for rock concerts, major league baseball games and other big events that bring in gobs of money for their promoters, common sense and Father Guido's supply-and-demand lesson go out the door.

And police move in.

The latest case brought to our attention is that of a Laurel horse doctor and dentist named James Casey.

As he's done for several years, Casey went to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville on the first Saturday of May. As has been the case for several years, he didn't have tickets. When Casey goes to Churchill Downs for the big race, he always looks for a scalper. He found one near the Kentucky Derby Museum.

"I purchased three tickets from a scalper for $100 each," Casey says. "I only needed two tickets but the scalper said I had to take all or none."

The tickets had a face value of $42. Casey, who as a thoroughbred breeder and trainer has raced horses in Kentucky, kept one ticket and handed another to a friend.

As Casey headed for the racetrack entrance, he says, a man approached him.

"Do you have any extra tickets?" the stranger asked.

"Yes," said Casey.

"What do you want for it?"

"What I paid for it, $100."

Turned out the man asking the questions was an undercover Louisville police officer who obviously didn't have bigger fish to fry -- or horses to whip, or drug dealers to arrest -- on Derby day. He arrested Casey.

Casey, caught without a wallet and photo identification in his pocket -- he'd left them in his car -- told the cop he was licensed as a trainer in Maryland and Kentucky, and that this fact could be verified by the Kentucky Racing Commission. There were plenty of people at the Derby who could vouch for him, Casey says he told the cop.

The cop didn't budge.

Casey was handcuffed and shackled. Police confiscated the $3,200 he carried to the Derby. "If I hadn't had that much in my pocket this might never have happened," Casey says. "They asked me why I had so much money. My answer was simple -- I came to gamble on the races, buy food and souvenirs."

Police placed Casey in what he calls a "chain-link cage" at Churchill Downs. He was then moved to a jail supervised by the Jefferson County Corrections Department.

There, Casey says, he was chained to a wall "for hours," then forced to stay in a vomit-and-urine-stained cell with 10 other prisoners, one of whom groped him several times. The guards, Casey says, did nothing.

It wasn't until after midnight that he was released from jail, Casey says. That was more than 13 hours after his arrest -- and some six hours, he claims, after a judge ordered his release.

Casey, appalled at his treatment in Louisville, wrote a letter to Churchill Downs. The racetrack passed his complaints to the Louisville Police Department and the Jefferson County Corrections Department.

Col. Joseph Payne, acting chief of the Corrections Department, says there will be an investigation into Casey's treatment. It hasn't happened yet, he says, because the department has only two investigators and one of them has been hospitalized. "We'll look into it," Payne says.

Officer Aaron Graham, spokesman for the Louisville police, says Casey's arrest was standard procedure. It's against Kentucky law to sell an event ticket at greater than face value, regardless of whether the seller makes a profit.

Casey is fighting. He's pleaded not guilty to scalping and already made a second trip to Louisville for a court appearance. He goes back for trial in July.

Why all the beefing -- not to mention airline fares -- over a minor offense that caries a maximum fine of $250?

"It's the principle," Casey says. He never asked the undercover cop if he wanted to buy the Derby ticket for $100; the conversation stopped when Casey told the undercover officer how much he'd paid for it.

That's a legal point at best, not "the principle."

The principle has to do with the natural laws of horse-trading, and the investment of police, prison guards, court officials (read that as taxpayer money) in an effort of dubious public value -- arresting and jailing scalpers. Says Casey: "If I buy a horse for whatever amount, $500 or $10,000, then someone buys it from me for whatever price we agree on, more than I paid for it -- well, that's how things work in this country."

Most things. Not all things.

When it comes to the profits of rock promoters and the owners of baseball teams or racetracks, the scalping laws beat the laws of supply and demand every time.

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