Popular GT columnist ‘JB’ passes

Mar 22, 2005 7:48 AM

His given name was Lucian Buonantony, but everyone in the Las Vegas gaming community affectionately knew him as John Bennett or simply "JB."

Almost since the day GamingToday was christened as the Las Vegas Sports Form, JB’s sports selections were a weekly staple, one that bettors sought out even before reaching for their bankroll. As a handicapper, he was outstanding.

At one point, his weekly "headline pick" won so often that legendary bookmaker Johnny Quinn, who held sway at the Union Plaza, posted a line on whether Bennett’s headline would win or lose. His best record involved 17 straight wins.

And, in the days before computers, when line makers had players running from one book to another, JB’s line guided many of the city’s bookmakers.

In fact, JB was so confident of his line making ability he didn’t hesitate to post his spreads on games two weeks in advance.

John Bennett died on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, at the age of 84, ending months of suffering from a kidney ailment that required blood dialysis three days a week. But even during those difficult months, he maintained his sense of humor, interacting with fellow patients who looked forward to his visits "because I made them laugh."

Bennett came to Las Vegas in 1967 because he loved "action," after having traveled the world as a member of the U.S. Marines. Because of his knowledge of sports, he soon found himself running the Rose Bowl, a stand-alone race and sports book located across from the Frontier, between the Sands and Desert Inn.

Writing in GamingToday’s 25th anniversary edition, he said: "Had Damon Runyon lived in the time of the Rose Bowl, he would have material for a book, and had O’Henry graced the Las Vegas scene, he could have written a thousand short stories."

Although he was too modest to focus on his role in the careers of some of the town’s better known bookies, he took pride in noting that he gave jobs to Roxy Roxborough, who at one time provided the lines to every sports book in Nevada, and Lou D’Amico, who was race and sports book director at Caesars Palace during its so-called glory days.

Reminiscing about his Rose Bowl days, JB noted that "wise guys and wanna-be wise guys congregated there. But there were a lot of famous people, also. We often saw comedians like Shecky Green, Pat Cooper and Jack Klugman, or the Sands regulars, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr."

He also remembered that scenes of the movie, the "Gauntlet" starring Clint Eastwood, were shot there.

It also was during those early days that JB and GamingToday founder Chuck Di Rocco formed a lifelong bond.

As he struggled to establish the fledgling sports and gaming newspaper, Di Rocco found that newspapers ads were often hard to find. But, JB was always there to help. Their friendship lasted until Di Rocco’s passing in March 2004.

As the father of six children and 12 grandchildren, JB took great pride in his family. Even while ailing, he smiled broadly in telling stories of the time spent with his grandchildren.

His family noted that JB passed away peacefully while watching UNLV defeat Arizona State on TV. As his long time friend, Di Rocco, would probably say, "We’re now reveling in that ultimate winner’s circle."

A memorial service will be held Wednesday, March 23, at 1 p.m. at Palm Mortuary, 7400 W. Cheyenne Ave.