Vic Zast

From the perspective of being an owner, an industry pioneer in corporate sponsorship, a track president and fan, Vic Zast writes the "Destinations" column for The Blood-Horse. His five-star ratings of international events have shed light on racing in all corners of the globe - from England, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai to Japan.

Vic is a regular contributor to, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for, National Public radio and The Age, Australia's leading daily.

Vic makes his home in Chicago and lives in Saratoga Springs in August.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Check is in the Mail

(CHICAGO, IL – January 24, 2011) There was a time when becoming an elected official represented an exalted accomplishment. Mothers told their children they could grow up to be president, and the children believed it and thought public service was something to strive for. And then slowly but surely the aura surrounding those chosen to lead began to subside, until now it is barely a flicker. As a matter of fact, being a member of the government today puts one low on the totem pole when a job defines character.

The foolish idea that politicians will do what they say, nonetheless, seems to hang on like a summer cold. What the electorate has heard from the elected since June is how they’ll vanquish unemployment, lower the debt and dismantle the health care bill - a dismantling that’s puzzling for why that would benefit us. Instead, what they’ve done is to add to the deficit by cutting the taxes of rich folks and pass a dead-ended bill to recall the reform that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concludes will reduce it.

It used to be that he who served represented a philosophy that appealed to the people who voted him in. Now a position in government is for a glib two-faced mercenary, one willing to do anything necessary, even sacrificing an ideology to kiss up to corporate donors. Such is the person – the people with prostituted lives – with whom horse racing deals as a licensed entity. If the industry started each encounter it had with a lawmaker by doubting his honesty, there’d be more time and money to care for the business.

Tomorrow, President Obama and a Republican would-be repo man will display the epitome of money-making politics when they blah-blah-blah on primetime television. But three days ago, Rahm Emanuel, the frontrunner to take over for Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley in February, provided another clear example of the state of the situation for those who can’t see the forest for the trees.

Emanuel raised $10.6 million from contributors during the campaign financing period which ended on December 31, over five times his rivals. He then heartily endorsed an education reform bill that was vigorously opposed by the teachers unions. Almost $1 million of the money Emanuel raised came from a group that’s pushed for reforms that educators find abhorrent.

The former White House Chief of Staff is not unique in his method of selecting constituents. His improvisation is of epidemic proportion. Simply check out how senators and members of Congress have voted on various issues and then see who their most generous contributors are. The price of influence has risen to astonishing heights, to the point that candidates will spend fortunes to win election in order to get on the receiving end.

Lacking the lobbying funds to compete with casinos (and the anti-gambling forces to which they contribute), the state’s horse racing industry has missed out in the gain game. After 20 years of lining the pockets of legislators, little substantive has changed in the law to help Illinois racetracks compete with its competition. Dick Duchossois went so far as to close Arlington Park in 1998 and 1999, believing that he would pressure the State to approve slots for his marble-floored palace. Nothing happened.

The most recent slap in the face came a week ago, in the last hour of the final day of the Legislature. Rep. Lou Lang quit on bringing a bill to the floor that was virtually assured of creating racinos, dashing the hopes of horsemen in the Prairie State. The Democrat from Skokie, a 22-year veteran of the Illinois House, then sent an email to them that defended his failure – something about I’m with you, just trust me, it wasn’t the right time to pass it.

“Let no one believe that I am not on your side,” wrote Lang, his use of a double-negative a hedge against sounding dishonest. His line was the equal to the one about the three greatest lies - “The check is in the mail, this is for your own good, and I’m from corporate headquarters and I’ve come to help you.” His excuse had the ring of Sen. Damon Thayer’s “Never too late to let the people decide,” when Thayer backed off from launching a bill his supporters - Kentucky's racetracks and horsemen – had paid for, or Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s “Would be a big boost for the economy” statement, that he made in defense of Gov. David Paterson’s settlement of a dispute that will lead to a Catskills casino, a development expected to harm business at NYRA’s Aqueduct racino.

What’s mind-blowing is that after years of blatant duplicity, people continue to believe in the sincerity of politicians' motives and remarks. Being loose with the truth has become so common that it’s made outright lying permissible. If one lies repeatedly, his lies become truth or, at least, in his mind, an acceptable practice. The one result of the Tucson shooting that was more obvious than the violence and insanity was that House representatives were aghast that a murder attempt was made on a member of their own privilege-presumed class. The reaction short-changed the episode's ghastly nature, to the favor of the victims' employment.

“In even our shock, we are composed and determined to fulfill our calling to represent our constituents,” House Speaker John Boehner sobbed, quite appropriately this time, as if his kind – men with their hands out for money - deserve admiration. “Let us not let this inhuman act do otherwise,” he said, believing, quite inaccurately, that his colleagues and he behave in a manner that’s high-minded.

Pari-mutuel wagering is no longer the lone source, or the biggest source, of gambling taxation to make government officials protect it, especially in a climate of economic acrobatics. Horse racing has allowed its popular reach to recede by chasing remote taps of revenue that emptied the racetracks and tainted the sport with a cold-hearted ambience. The sport has become, in effect, the once shining star that no longer sings like a diva because her voice is too weak for Broadway. Perhaps that's a good thing, considering the audience.

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