By David Stratton
If it seems like the newspaper is a little lighter this week, it’s probably because Lucien "John Bennett" Buonantony is no longer contributing his weekly, heavyweight sports analysis and selections.
The 81-year-old columnist, who has worked for publisher Chuck Di Rocco since GamingToday’s inception in 1976, has decided to sign "30" and retire.
J.B., as he was affectionately called, joined forces with Di Rocco 28 years ago. (See last week’s Marker Down for Di Rocco’s remembrances of his long-time friendship with J.B.)
At the time, J.B. was the bookmaker in charge of the Rose Bowl bet shop, and had previously worked at the Stardust.
"The Rose Bowl was more than a place to make bets," wrote J.B. in an early column. "It was a gathering place for Las Vegas residents of another era."
J.B. said "wise guys" and "wanna be wise guys" gathered at the Rose Bowl, which featured a popular snack bar that attracted tourists, cab drivers and others who swapped stories.
The regulars also included some celebrities, such as Shecky Green, Pat Cooper, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis and Jack Klugman.
But the players were always the main show.
"We had a customer who had a slight heart attack when his horse lost in a photo finish," J.B. recalled. "While the paramedics were carrying him out, race caller Joe Laducca had begun announcing the seventh race at Del Mar. When the ”˜patient’ on the stretcher heard Laducca’s call, he asked the paramedics to hold up so he could catch the end of the race."
The Rose Bowl was "unique," J.B. said, "there won’t be another like it in Las Vegas."
In 1976, Di Rocco ”” a veteran horse racing official and publicist as well as newspaper editor ”” began publishing a weekly Sports Form every Saturday. The newspaper featured coverage of horse racing (including graded handicaps), college and professional sports, gaming and entertainment news.
Di Rocco struck up a friendship with J.B. when he delivered stacks of the Sports Form to the Rose Bowl. More important, he found that J.B. would be very qualified to offer his insights on sports betting for the fledgling newspaper’s readership.
Right from the outset, J.B. had an impact. Not only did he offer handicapping advice, he made picks right on the Sports Form’s front page.
And his selections were usually right on! In fact, several bookmakers in town often moved their line to offset J.B.’s knack for spotting winners.
One bookie, John Quinn at the Union Plaza, even posed a line each week on whether J.B.’s headline would win or lose.
Those days are gone, but readers will have a lot of memories of J.B.’s expert sports analysis and selections.
For now, J.B., enjoy your retirement and good luck picking those ponies at the Stardust!