The Fourth of July & John Phillip Sousa

Jul 3, 2001 6:05 AM

   FLAGS, PARADES AND TIN CUPS! What a winning trifecta. It hit every Fourth of July throughout my youth.

   I went to a parochial school. There were no classes in the summer, but every Independence Day ”” like clockwork ”” we had to gather at St. Mary’s. We went to Mass at 8 a.m. and then lined up by grades to march in the holiday parade. The good Sisters handed us flags to carry. Around our neck was a tin cup for the lemonade at the picnic grounds.

   The march was an effort. But, the thrill of the bands and the camaraderie of our classmates made it all worthwhile.

   All of the children were given tickets to be used for refreshments at the picnic. Everyone would chow down upon arrival. A nearby field was cleared off for a softball game and the rest of the day was spent playing ball. By nightfall fireworks filled the sky.

   I remember it like it was yesterday. I wish it were.

   Listen, they’re playing Stars and Stripes Forever.

   HAPPY DAYS! “I have a lot of things I want to do before I ride over the big mountain . . . I’d like to travel and, for once in my lifetime, I’d like to sit in a rocking chair and not worry about payroll or taxes.” That’s what Milos “Sharkey” Begovech, a legendary casino owner (Sharkey’s Nugget) in Gardnerville, Nev., revealed after the 75-year-old gent sold his casino of 30 years. The buyer, Harold Holder Sr., owns the Silver club in Sparks, the El Capitan in Hawthorne and the Sundance Casino in Winnemucca.

   “MAKING A DIFFERENCE!” Hats off to Jack Binion, long-time casino owner and son of gambling pioneer the late Benny Binion. He has donated $1 million to the Southern University System of Louisiana. Jack told it like it is, “I donated the money to make a difference.” It was the largest single gift in the university’s history. Top priority will be to invest $400,000 of Binion’s gift to create a new endowed chair at the college of business at Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus.

   There’s more! Binion is in the process of giving a similar gift to Bossier Parrish public schools to purchase computers and other classroom technology. That gift will total $1.5 million over 10 years.

   LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS! And, it’s a good thing. I can’t count on both hands the number of coaches I have known across the years and across the board who have tested their luck in Nevada casinos. So, it should come as no surprise that I was somewhat more than surprised to learn that college coaches and officials are back marching on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to help ban gambling on amateur sports. The only target is Nevada, where such activity has long been kosher.

   But, if I could guess, it’s all in vain. It’s a good bet it won’t happen this time around.

   HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL! Ask Al Castellano, a 66-year-old retired grocery clerk from San Jose who won the largest single jackpot in U.S. history last week by hitting the $141 million California lottery. Al elected to take the cash. He ended up with $42.3 million after taxes. But, he’s not crying about the large discount.

   CASINOS ON TOP! Forget all the scheduled conventions planned for Niagara Falls, N.Y., if Gov. George Pataki’s plan to allow a Seneca Nation of Indians casino to open there and in two other area sites by April 2002. It could drastically boost the development of the region’s tourism industry in coming years. Twelve conventions are set for 2002. “We’ll satisfy their needs, as best we can, in Niagara Falls,” said Stan Rydelek, a business leader in Western New York. “We will come up with the venues to accommodate them.” The governor’s plan, which has met strong opposition, calls for a Niagara Falls casino to open by April.

   BY-THE-SEA! Customers at the newly expanded Resorts at Atlantic City ”” the first casino to ever open in Atlantic City ”” can not only enter the casino area off the boardwalk, they can also see the ocean while they play. Mirrored glass enables the players to look out, but no one from the outside can look in.

   THE POWER OF MONEY! The message is loud and clear: It costs $500 million to own a Major League Baseball club, $600 million to own an NFL team and $170,000 to own this year’s Kentucky Derby winner. That’s what John C. Oxley paid to buy Monarchos.

   POKER . . . GAME OF SKILL OR CHANCE? If players are at the mercy of the cards, then police in Akron, Ohio, made a good pinch when they arrested 10 gambling suspects in an illegal poker game. Not so say the attorneys for the gambling suspects: Poker is a game of skill, not chance. They want charges dismissed. Police say that the poker game was illegal because someone was cutting the pot for profit and making up to $1,000 a night. The municipal court in Akron will decide the case.