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Wise people listen when ‘The Duck’ quacks!!!

May 28, 2002 8:01 AM

FRIENDS CALL HIM "THE DUCK!" Maybe it’s because when he makes like a duck and "quacks," he sounds more like a duck than a duck.

Who knows? All I know for certain is that Donald "The Duck" McKinney is a Las Vegas original. A member of the vanishing breed of gamblers, The Duck qualifies as a legend among living characters. He looks the part. He’s always dressed to the nines and if he ever decided to carry a briefcase, he’d fit in perfectly with the Wall Street crowd.

The Duck has spent a lifetime studying the habits of the running horse. Unlike other players of the ponies, The Duck will never die broke. Along the way he’s invested in the stock market when a good tip came along from a good source. He never talks about his portfolio. He’s earned bragging rights there, but forgoes them in his quest to pick a horse to get to the wire first.

Don is good copy. I filled plenty of holes telling of his zany efforts. Like most gamblers who’ve been around for a while, McKinney thinks little of the present and warms in the sun of yesteryears.

Want a taste?

"In the old days if you went to the track and stayed through the meet, paying your hotel room and meals at today’s prices, you could win $100,000 a year and still starve to death. It wasn’t like when you won a $10 bet you had enough jingle to pay your room rent and live good on a $5 meal ticket.

"I won $1,000 on a horse named Robinson Crusoe. I bought a new Ford with the winnings for $610, plus a couple of good suits, socks and ties and still had a $200 bankroll left. To have that kind of buying power today you’d have to win $15,000 to $20,000.

"Now you’d have a helluva time getting down a bet of a couple thousand on a 10-1 shot. Race books are not interested in accepting that kind of action, at least from known, smart players who may know something that the bookie doesn’t. Pari-mutuel wagering has eased the situation. But, it’s getting tougher, if not impossible, for a good player to make enough money living by his wits ”” the stuff that produced those types of characters.

"I remember it well. There were beautiful women. The town ran on glamour and spoiling the rich. As for the women, they made a living out of dating . . . Quack! Quack!

ALL AFLUTTER! A local TV station aired the "French Connection" over the weekend. What a peaceful way to spend a holiday, cuddled up to the tube and enjoying Gene Hackman as Detective Popeye Doyle.

The film has some years on it. Hackman was a young pup, but the seeds of an actor were firmly planted and developing. It dates back to when Hollywood had a different breed of writers. Realism played a major role in the flick.

Although I have seen "French Connection" a number of times, I remember quite well the first time. A very young Frank Sinatra Jr., a real live movie buff, was playing in Buffalo, N.Y. I went backstage to say hello and Tino Barzi, his aide de camp, invited us to come to Frank’s suite after the show. He had just had a copy of the "French Connection" flown in. Tino said it was a dynamite movie and I would enjoy it.

I did. And, the company was pretty good, too.

BACK IN ACTION! Patty Richards, gaming’s hostess with the mostest, is growing nicely in the casino garden at the Aladdin.

A brief conversation with Frank Tutera updated me. He told me about Patty, Brad Olson and son Jed Tutera. All are in the garden. Jed is a fine young man and former writer for this newspaper. As a slot host he will keep plenty of players happy.

Good luck to the trio.

And, Frank reminds me, he will continue to expand his staff.

MUST TAKE A NAP Thursday afternoon so I can be bright-eyed at a party early Friday morning honoring the retirement of Charley Brown, one of Caesars Palace’s all-time great cocktail servers.

The bash begins at 2 a.m. and will be held at Favorites on Maryland at Flamingo.

They don’t make them like Charley anymore. She really cared and took an interest in her customers. She will be missed.