They spent many an hour exchanging gaming stories, but neither GT’s late publisher Chuck Di Rocco nor his good friend and the city’s ”˜best’ casino host, Mike Bonfiglio, could have foreseen that their deaths would happen within just a few days.
Mike died on Thursday, March 11, just one day before Chuck’s scores of friends gathered at St. Joseph, Husband of Mary Church, to bid him farewell. He had passed away on Saturday, March 6, but Mike, who was on his deathbed, probably never knew it.
The two friends, and their buddy, Al "Mokey" Faccinto, who spent years running the casino floor at Caesars Palace, made it a point to meet periodically to share some of their favorite stories involving casino characters. That they qualified as characters themselves never came up in their conversations.
They met in the late 1970’s after Chuck had established his gaming newspaper, Sports Form, and was working to grow his racing dissemination business. To relax, he often spent his evenings playing his favorite game blackjack at either Caesars Palace, his favorite hangout, or the Desert Inn, where Mike presided.
The friendship was a natural since Mike "loved the ponies" and enjoyed discussing the races at Santa Anita and Del Mar where both he and Chuck had many friends. Mike’s love of golf, however, was not shared by Chuck. But he enjoyed listening to Mike’s experiences as he traveled throughout the country to play at the better-known courses.
Lunches were devoted to the days when both Mike and his buddy Mokey paced between the gaming tables at their respective properties. Often, Chuck repeated their stories in his "Marker Down" column in Sports Form that later became GamingToday.
Between bites of his favorite dish, stuffed artichokes prepared by Gino Ferraro at his Flamingo Road restaurant, Mike spoke about "a sweetheart of a player," from the days of old.
"He used to come into the Desert Inn, fire at will and never disturb a soul ”” win or lose. The problem was that he had this thing about always playing at the tables with a live monkey on his back. He said it was his good luck charm. I wasn’t the one who was going to break his superstition. I would case the pit he was playing to see if there might be any other player who would be offended by the chimp, who, by the way, was a perfect gentleman."
As Mike was talking, Mokey interrupted, saying, "I remember the guy. He played at Caesars with the monkey on his back, too. After a while we got a lot of complaints. I hated to do it, but I had to tell the player the monkey was not welcome."
Before Mokey could say another word, Mike said, "I know exactly what happened. After a few years, he came back to the tables with a stuffed monkey. I tell you, Mokey, whoever stuffed the monkey was well paid. He looked so real it was hard to believe he was a stuffed one."
There were a number of other gaming tales that were related to Chuck but they’ll have to remain in the newspaper’s archives.
Surviving Mike, in addition to his friend Mokey, are his sister, Frances Salancy, and his niece, Bella Salancy.
The funeral will be held Wed., March 17, with services at 1:30 p.m. at St. Joseph, Husband of Mary Catholic Church.