Going to the track with Anthony Scariano, the reform chairman of the Illinois Racing Board, is an usual experience. At Hawthorne he presents an award to the winner the sixth race and smiles for the cameras as the winning harness driver scowls. As a result of Scariano's turning over information to the state's attorney, the driver is under indictment for allegedly fixing races--so who can blame him for scowling?
Tony feels he has to. Eighteen months ago Governor Dan Walker named him, a Park Forester who had never been to a racetrack in his life, to the unpaid job of regulating what seemed to be an unregulatable $686-million-a-year betting industry. His predecessor, Alexander MacArthur, a wealthy and completely honest man, had admitted his failure to get polities out of racing. "This old cat got his tail burned and won't climb down another chimney for awhile," he said ruefully upon resigning in protest. MacArthur's board had approved by one vote a 1973 racing schedule that he claimed would cost the state millions in tax revenue, though it was eminently pleasing to the tracks.
Worse revelations were in the works. Marje Everett, the so-called "queen" of Illinois racing, was about to testify in U.S. District Court how she arranged for Otto Kerner, when he was governor, to buy bargain-priced stock in her racing operations for $15,079 that he sold for $144,721. U.S. Attorney James Thompson charged Kerner acted favorably on fourteen bills that benefited racing and directly increased the value of racetrack stock. . Kerner and his former state finance director, Theodore J. Isaac, were both sentenced to three years in prison. Also indicted was William S. Miller, who was chairman of the racing board from 1961 to 1967 and allegedly suggested and handled the payoffs. He avoided prison by turn- government witness. Mrs. Everett said about Miller: "He had life and death power over our industry....It was important to us . . . to be able to to retain those dates that we had. ..." A year after he left the racing board Miller organized the million-dollar purchase of Balmoral Jockey Club and Chicago Harness Racing Inc., thus remaining a major figure in Illinois racing.
Everyone of consequence seemed to have had some racetrack stock. Mrs. Everett told investigators of giving, forty-nine percent of Washington Park Trotters, which she had organized with Miller's help, to Paul Powell, the late secretary of state who died with a cash fortune in shoe boxes. Powell divided Washington Trotters among key legislators. Those who got stock included Clyde Choate, Democratic leader in the House, and George Dunne, president of the Cook County Board..
There are twenty-four racing associations. Many of the harness associations are only "paper" corporations that own nothing except their stock certificates. They make money by gettting the racing board to award them racing dates at tracks they lease. Several of the "paper" companies were apparently generous with their bargain-priced stock, perhaps to help assure themselves good dates. The stink from this was so pervasive that Walker, in his gubernatorial campaign, promised to "clean up racetrack politics." Upon winning, his choice for this unrewarding task was Tony, who after sixteen years as a Democratic state representative had just been defeated in his race for the state senate in overwhelmingly Republican Park Forest.
Tony is a mid-fifthish lawyer with a cheerful Latin disposition who specializes in representing school boards. His appointment was highly improbable. Compared to an expert like William Miller, the new chair man had an I.Q. of 3 when it came to horses. But his honesty quotient was measurably higher. Six terms out of eight, he won the "Best Legislator" award from the Independent Voters of Illinois. He had earned a reputation as a maverick who consistently spoke up for clean government; at the same time he won the distrust of the lobbyists and legislators who couldn't understand his goody-goody behavior.
Why is it that from the same block of his old Italian neighborhood some boys grow up to be Mafiosi and others reformers? That certainly was the case near Grand Avenue and Peoria Street, around the corner from the Como Inn Italian restaurant, where Tony spent his childhood in the Capone-era 1920s. Joe Batters, better known as Tony Accardo, hung around on the block as did Charlie (Cherry Nose) Gioe, whose parole Tony would try to revoke decades later when he was assistant U.S. attorney.
Tony still gets mad when he thinks of the Mafia activity in his old neighborhood. "We had more alcohol stills on my block than they do n the Kentucky hills," he recalled. The Mafia wanted to take over my grandmother's garage, back of her house, for a still. When she refused, they sent her a Black Hand note treathening to kill my uncle. They moved into the garage, started cooking alky and were evicted only when a fire broke out and the firemen called the U.S. marshal, who padlocked the place for a year."
Ordinary excursions into juvenile deliquency terrified Tony. "Doing something wrong makes me nervous," he explained. "The kids would go and steal apples or throw stones at the Italian Protestant church down the block. I went along only once. It made me nervous. I like to sleep nights."
Tony went on. "It may be a cliche, but I've always revered the law. I remember how terrible I felt when I saw two cops in one of those orange Model A Ford police cars parked back off my house in the alley, taking a cut out of a crap game they are watching. It made a cynic of every kid in the neighborhood about government and law enforcement." Tony's father, an immigrant Sicilian tailor, died when Tony was ten, leaving a widow and four small children. Tony's mother worked in a candy factory for twenty-five cents an hour to pay the rent on her fourth-floor walkup. The Scarianos shared a toilet with another family. There was no hot water or bathtub. The children went to work as soon as they could. Tony's older brother rode a fruit wagon for $1 a day. After two and a half years of high school, Tony dropped out to run the newsstand at the Wells Street entrance of the Merchandise Mart ($9 for an eighty-four-hour week).
Unlike most dropouts of his generation, Tony returned to high school, working part-time at three jobs--running the newsstand, typing for the school newspaper and sellling shoes. Still, he made time to serve as editor of the Wells High School World (his successor was to be Roman Pucinski). Determined to get through college, he went to three of them, finally finishing up while working as a policeman in the Capitol building and as a speechwriter for Senator Scott Lucas between classes at George Washington University.
When World War II broke out, Tony, who spoke fluent Italian and Sicilian, became an operations officer for the O.S.S. and participated in a number of missions that disrupted communications behind enemy lines in northern Italy.
After the war, Tony whisked through Georgetown Law Center in two and a half years, while working as an aide for Senator Lucas, who had become the Democratic minority leader. Through all of this he was happily married to Leah Vaira, a dark-eyed Italian girl from Colorado who worked in Washington as her Congressman's secretary. Tony brought her to the Midwest, and they became, in 1948, two of the first residents of Park Forest, which he helped incorporate as a village. (See "The Graying of Park Forest," THE CHICAGOAN, March.)
I have been his neighbor ever since and have had a chance to watch his career from a box seat. For five years he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney (for Otto Kerner, of all people), legally moon-lighting at night (a necessity on his $2,900 a year salary) in his Chicago Heights law office.
Chicago Heights has a substantial Italian immigrant population, and this didn't hurt Tony's law business. But all those years he studiously avoided shaking hands with the local Mafia chieftain, Frank LaPorte, when they occasionally ate in the same Italian restaurants where Tony managed to add thirty-five pounds to his chubby five-foot-eight-inch frame with such delicacies as fried calamari and linguini in clam sauce.
Starting as a Democratic precinct captain, Tony became one of the best-known state legislators, repeatedly winning elections in his G.O.P. stronghold because of cumulative voting, which permits a voter to distribute his votes among one, one-and-a-half or three candidates. It is debatable whether Tony was terribly effective in a legislature which had so many members on the take (former Lieutenant Governor Paul Simon, writing in a famous 1964 Harper's article, estimated the number at one-third). Still, Tony had his achievements. "I tried to serve as a conscience and as a spokesman for the little guy," he says. He also helped Dan Walker, then chairman of the Chicago Crime Commission, push through a series of anti racketeering bills and established himself as a foe of the race track interests. It was natural that he was the first man Governor Walker thought of for the racing board. Tony, weary with politics, agreed to take the job but "only for one year"--a year that expired last December 31. To the dismay of some track operators he lingers on. "They laughed at us because we didn't know anything about racing," says 31-year-old James C. Hutchins, the new secretary of the racing board whose unlikely background includes banking and working for a Ph.D. in language analysis.
"But we learned, quickly--very quickly." Actually, Hutchins had learned the realities of Chicago polities as manager of State Senator Dawn Clark Netsch's campaign and was plenty tough. For the first time the racing board began to regulate. It hired Arthur Anderson Co., the largest accounting firm in America, to formulate forty-five pages of financial rules so that race tracks couldn't alibi that they were losing money when they were actually mixing in expenses of allied industries such as hotels and real estate. All twenty-four racing associations were thoroughly audited for the first time.
And for the first time applications for racing dates had to list every stockholder, so kinky ones could be scrutinized. All officers and directors and everyone holding a five per cent interest in a track or an association had to list their arrest records or any previous violations of racing rules. A new law that Tony had helped get through the legislator in his last term made it illegal for stockholders to hide in anonymity behind a dummy corporation or nominee" as did Governor Kerner.
For the first time suspicious backgrounds of track stockholders and the 13,000 other persons licensed by the racing board could thoroughly scrutinized. The number of Illinois Bureau of Investigation agents assigned to the board was increased from four to seven, with the tracks paying their salaries. Their digging resulted in five would-be investors having to withdraw from racing after it was found they had been previously indicted for price-fixing.
The additional investigators also helped bring the indictment of thirteen harness-racing horsemen for conspiracy, bribery and perjury. The indictments involved three allegedly fixed races dating back to 1972, but nothing had been done about them until this year because there weren't enough investigators.
Other revelations are expected . The board is considering using subpoena powers to look into certain mysterious cash payoffs made by racetracks that were uncovered by the financial audits. It is also interested in what may turn to be illegal campaign contributions made by tracks and racing associations.
What has pleased Tony the most was getting Bill Miller out of racing. "I was criticized by the civil libertarians for prejudicing his rights," says Tony, "but the man admitted under oath that he bribed Otto Kerner and Ted Isaacs in behalf of Marje Everett." Miller had racing dates awarded by the previous board, but no license, and Tony was determined that he wouldn't get one. Stubbornly, they jousted. Scariano wanted Miller to sell his racing interests and Miller promised that he would, but kept delaying as the racing season approached. Finally, in a monumental confrontation at the racing board, an adamant Tony told Miller, "We'll have no racing at all rather than let you run a meet. You've been yo-yoing us around!" Miller caved in. He sold two- hundred-acre Balmoral Park in Crete and two racing associations to Edward J. DeBartolo, a shopping center developer who owns race tracks in Ohio. DeBartolo is a multimillionare, but his background file thickened to three hundred pages before Tony was satisfied with his credentials. At one point, exasperated because the board chairman persisted in questioning him if he knew certain Mafia figures with Italian names, DeBartolo snapped: "Are you asking me about those people because my name is DeBartolo?" Tony had to soothe him: "Aw, come on. My name ends in a vowel too."
In the past there have been strong suspicions that political pressures affect the award of racing dates. That the racing board had really changed became evident when it held three days of open hearings in Springfield last November to decide on 1974 dates. On the final day the board set up a blackboard with a tentative schedule on it and publicly debated its merits, adding four days to a meet here and taking four days away there. Four days can mean a $50,000 profit and the suspense was too much for one of Illinois' biggest operators, William H. Johnston, Jr., president of Chicago Downs. "Hell," he complained. "This is like going through like open-heart surgery without an anesthetic. Will you do me a favor and meet in private next time?"
By its action on the 1974 dates the racing board reversed the inequities of the previous schedule, which the board said didn't provide enough time for grass racing, a sport that attracts the best horses and biggest gates. Frankly, the board was using itsp power over racing dates to improve what it regarded as a deteriorating sport, with declining attendance nationally and a dearth of young fans.
Attached to each award of dates for a meeting were certain conditions that the board expected the association to observe. These included higher purses to attract better horses and larger crowds plus improvements in racetrack and turf surfaces and backstretch (stable) areas. The board also took exception to inflated admission, food and program prices, freezing them at present levels. "The poor fan has to spend maybe $8 for the privilege of losing two bucks," complained Tony. In the ease of the East St. Louis Jockey Club, Inc., the board ordered a rollback in program prices from 50 cents to 35 cents. Tony noted that the fatcats who owned the land on which the track stood, and most of he track itself, had paid only $1,500 a share in their venture--and that share was now worth $27,000. "These are the guys," he said angrily, "who poor-mouth and take it out on the $2 bettor by raising prices." The track responded by suing to void his order. (The bipartisan shareholders include William "Smokey" Downey, one-time executive secretary to Governor William Stratton; the estate of Paul Powell; Alvin G. Fields, former chairman of the e Democratic Party of St. Clair County, and Clyde Choate, Democratic leader of the House.) Tony's gravelly West Side accent thickens when he considers the political influences that he feels brou ght Illinois racing to the edge of ruin: "We've had to completely eliminate the patronage system. It used be that to get a job as a mutuel clerk (a $100-a-day job if you work two tracks) you had to get a letter from your county chairman or ward committeeman--no more. It used to be that a horseman would ask a board member to call a track and get him him stable space--no more. I don't want any board member asking favors from a racing association--it's no way to improve the quality of racing.
Some people think it's mickey mouse, but we did away with free passes. The previous boards had as many as 400,000 a year. The politicians passed them out for good will and the state lost the 40-cent admission tax on each."
Sitting in the racing board office on North LaSalle Street, I watch Tony shovel down some frankfurters and beans at his desk as he waits for a lawyer to show up with his client, a thoroughbred trainer accused of being found with an illegal hypodermic syringe in his possession at the track. Tony is supposed to hold a hearing on this but the lawyer calls up to say he's going to sue the board d in Circuit Court.
"We've been sued more than any board in history," Tony says, sounding like he's bragging. "These are not all politically connected eases. It's just that people in the industry have been accustomed to making a call to get something done."
The industry is in for more shakeup. The board has all sorts of innovations in the works, like having a computer analyze each day's "gimmick" betting--such as the trifecta--to see if it can detect anything funny.
Or like making a survey of fifty top owners and trainers who left Illinois in the past decade and asking why they won't come back. Answers: (a) Claiming-prices and minimum purses are comparable at most tracks, but not in Illinois where it unusual for a cheap $2,500 claiming horse to get a $5,000 purse. (b) Illinois tracks don't seem to care if they get quality racing. It's expensive to breed a quality horse (only one of four ever makes it to the track) but there are not enough $10,000 or $20,000 purses for allowance horses, although there are a few high-stakes races for the very top horses. It's far less costly to bring in a lot of cheap nags, especially if you can race them for a $5,000 purse. (c) Racetrack operators sometimes show favoritism to certain horse owners by custom tailoring, races, as set up in the "condition book," to exclude tough competitors.
Crooked trainers or jockeys certainly can't be happy that the laboratories at the West Side Medical Center are increasing number of blood and urine samples taken from winning or suspicious horses from 17,800 a year to 27.800 a year.
"Furthermore, we're putting the specimens into deep freeze at -10 F., and saving them for years," says John McDonald, the laboratory director who has fifteen technicians working for him. "Our sophisticated equipment can detect l/l0th of 1 part of a substance per million so we build up a chemical dossier on a certain trainer and look for patterns over the years."
What the board wants is consistent performance on the part of horses so that the average fan can handicap them. It doesn't like having a trotter run two or three races in 2:07 or 2:08 and then come up with a 2:03--that's nearly a twenty-length difference. The lab looks into such cases with particular interest. Until Tony came along the board banned all horse medications for twenty-four hours before a race, but the rule was unrealistic and was disobeyed perhaps fifty percent of the time. Horses, after all, are like human athletes in that they require a certain amount of nursing for their aches and pains. After a series of hearings the new board specified some twenty drugs--such as aspirin and hydrocortisone--that could be legally administered in recommended dosages. Most notable was its authorizing the painkiller "bute" (phenylbutazone), in carefully regulated quantities. The few violations noted in laboratory tests to date have resulted in the board's levying fines and suspensions. The new rules are regarded as the most advanced in the country--imagine that from dirty old Illinois! Ohio is adopting Tony's new rules; Maryland and Florida may follow suit.
Tony feels that the board has gone about as far as it can to improve conditions under the present three acts that regulate racing and has had drafted a new law for the legislature to consider. This would permit winter thoroughbred racing, allow Sunday racing and permit winter harness racing in Cook County. It would also change the parimutuel tax paid by the track (which presently returns about $56 million a year), by basing it on the average daily betting. It would thus become an incentive for meets to have higher purses that might attract better horses. At present a track's fixed costs continue as a meet progresses even though its share of the "handle" declines.
A few wise guys are saying that Tony and his board can never get such a law through the legislature. But they are the same ones who said he couldn't get the lawmakers to mend the old law forbidding the painkiller "bute." If there's one place Tony knows how to operate, it's down in Springfield. There's a lot less tal A few wise guys are saying that Tony and his board can never get such a law through the legislature. But they are the same ones who said he couldn't get the lawmakers to mend the old law forbidding the painkiller "bute." If there's one place Tony knows how to operate, it's down in Springfield. There's a lot less talk these days about those amateurs on the racing board."