— The odds of winning big at the race track can be hundreds, or thousands, to one against. Only a few ever get that far. And some don't even collect when they do win.
Few know that, from the dropped and lost race tickets left uncashed each year, there are millions of dollars that remain unclaimed.
For a short time last year, those few included two young men who knew where to find the money and how to get it. Their misadventures would eventually lead them to what is thought to be the largest betting scandal in American sporting history.
In an exclusive interview for Primetime Monday, Glen DaSilva, a key player in the scandal, sat down and discussed his involvement in the scheme which rocked the betting world. It is the first time that any of the principal players involved in the scandal has agreed to a television interview.
An Ominous Meeting of the Minds
The story began about 10 years ago at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where Glen DaSilva met his roommate Chris Harn, a shy yet talented computer whiz kid in his freshman year.
The friendship was serendipitous. Harn helped DaSilva with computers and the charismatic DaSilva helped Harn socialize. DaSilva eventually convinced Harn to join the same fraternity as he did.
DaSilva stayed friends with Harn after college and moved to Manhattan. But the slow job market began to wear on him. "It's the 'why me' syndrome. 'Why do I continue to be the one who's laid off?,' " recalls DaSilva, 30.
But DaSilva liked the high life and began using drugs. He was even arrested for cocaine possession. At this low point for DaSilva, financially and emotionally, Harn approached DaSilva with an idea for how to make a few quick bucks.
Now working as a programmer with a company named Autotote, a company which handles most of the nation's horse racing bets, Harn discovered those tickets which remain uncashed were listed in his company's computer.
"He printed on the Autotote computers tickets with serial numbers that he knew were uncashed," says Daniel Conti, Harn's attorney. DaSilva took these tickets and brought them to New York area race tracks, slipped in the "winning" tickets into the betting machines, which would print cash vouchers in return.
"It's not as if we were doing stick-ups," DaSilva told ABCNEWS. "This was unclaimed money."
All told, this pulled in around $6,000 a month for Harn and DaSilva.
The Greed Grows
DaSilva used his share to jet off to places like Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas. "I like nice things and I had begun to live beyond my means," he said. They wanted more money.
Harn thought of a more lucrative way to scam the tracks. They would hit the "Pick Six," a bet which requires picking the winners of six consecutive races. They would test the scheme at Belmont Park, New York's biggest racetrack.
Here's how they did it: Harn would phone in a "pick six" bet using DaSilva's off-track betting account. The winners he chose did not matter.
Following the fourth race, Harn would use his computer access as a programmer at Autotote and, within the span of 20 minutes, exploit a loophole which allowed him to change the bets before the results were recorded.
For the last two races, he did what was known as "betting the wheel," which was to select every horse to win. "So you can't lose," DaSilva adds.
The first pick six bet netted more than $100,000. "They sent me my money and they congratulated me on my style of betting," says DaSilva.
Meanwhile, racing officials were completely unaware of the scams. "It laid under the radar screen," says Bill Nader of the New York Racing Association. "It was a relatively small payoff. It wasn't something that was very noticeable." This, of course, was the beauty of the scam or so DaSilva and Harn thought.
"You do it because the software is vulnerable," says DaSilva, "and you are not gonna be caught. You're simply not gonna be caught."
Losers By a Longshot
But then they made what would be the biggest mistake of their lives. Harn decided to hit last years' Breeders' Cup, the biggest day in horse racing, and, without telling DaSilva, got another fraternity brother, Derrick Davis, in on the scheme. The scam was the same.
And it might have worked if it were not for a little known horse with odds 43-to-1 against making a miracle finish.
"It was simply the undeniable will of the universe that brought in Volponi that day," recalls DaSilva. Volponi "blew every other horse out of the water that day by at least five or six lengths."
As DaSilva recalled, this meant Derrick Davis was holding the only winning tickets in the world for the biggest bet on the biggest day in horse racing. He held claim to the entire pot reserved for the winner of the highest bet — in this case, the Pick Six — and would have been entitled to $3.1 million.
"This could have been the biggest wagering fraud ever," says Nader.
The New York State Wagering Board had never seen anything like it. Tom Casergola, audits director for the board, then heard from the head of the OTB where Davis' tickets had been purchased.
Casergola was told, "Well, if you think that wagering combination is unusual, we had another one a couple of weeks ago, same type of wagering pattern."
The OTB executive was referring to Glen DaSilva's Pick Six win at Belmont. It was not long until it was discovered that the winners of the two suspicious bets — Davis and DaSilva — had each lived together had the same address years ago. It was their Drexel University fraternity house. And one other person lived there as well — a computer programmer for the Autotote named Chris Harn.
"So at that point, we pretty much had a pretty clear understanding of who was involved," says Casergola.
Cut and Run
Still, DaSilva was unmoved by the prosecution that was starting to mount around him and his friends. "What they had was a lot of suspicion," DaSilva says, "and a lot of coincidence, but they had no evidence."
But Harn, facing potentially seven years in prison for his deeds and with it, many years away from his wife and young daughter, cut a deal for a lighter sentence and confessed everything, including the scheme to cash bogus tickets with the serial numbers from the unclaimed winning tickets.
"This was something they could have done I'm sure for years and years because that was well below the radar screen." Nader says, admitting that the men could still have been making thousands a month on the scam. Instead, all three landed in federal prison.
Harn is serving a year and a day. Dasilva got two years, and Davis, three.
When asked about the possibility of being able to have to continue winning, to continue the high life, and never getting caught, DaSilva replies matter-of-factly: "What could have been … "
But for Glen DaSilva, Chris Harn and Derrick Davis, the difference between the high life and hard time was a 43-to-1 longshot no one ever heard of named Volponi.