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Lifestyles & Community

June 21, 2013

Growing up with a real life Tony Soprano

RICHMOND — I’m sorry to learn of the death of James Gandolfini. He was a beloved actor on a very popular television show, but I only watched The Sopranos a couple of times.

It was impossible for a television show to compete with what I saw in real life.

As Jimmy Buffett said, I’ve met a lot of heroes and crooks.

If my childhood had been filmed as a reality series, we would have blown The Sopranos out of the water.

Before there was a modern Las Vegas, there was Northern Kentucky. That’s where I grew up. The area was controlled by mobsters. My father, made his bones working in the bingo halls, bars and gambling joints of Covington and Newport.

When the gangsters were run out of town in the 1960’s, Dad started his own gambling enterprises. He eventually went legit and did well in the travel business.

I was surrounded by colorful people, but I didn’t know they were colorful.

I thought everyone had names like “Peanuts,” “Lucky,” “Jelly” and “Screen Door Smitty.”

I moved away for college and never came back. I got into the worlds of money and personal finance. Now, I specialize in helping lottery winners, injured people and those who receive large amounts of money at one time.

My father’s world was the mean streets, and my world is one of lawyers, actuaries, and financiers.

Those worlds collided at dad’s 1993 funeral.

As they were getting ready to take his coffin down the aisle of the church, one of my closest friends and a United States Attorney, asked to talk to me. I told him I was busy. He got in my face and said “Don, I need to talk to you now!”

He pointed across the church and said, “Don, who is that?”

I didn’t even have to look. I knew who “that” was.

They had seated two US attorneys behind a man we’ll call Wacker. Wacker was a reputed mobster from Chicago. You could tell he was a reputed mobster from 100-yards away. He was the absolute stereotype of a character from The Godfather.

He and my dad vacationed and shot craps together. They were very close friends.

My prosecutor friend had overheard Wacker say, “I hope the FBI doesn’t have the pews wired.” Then a minute later he said, “If God sees who is in this church, the walls are going to come crumbling down.”

Many of my friends were regular church goers, but for Dad’s crew, it was a maiden voyage.

My world and my father’s world meet at many junctures.

Dad was a gambler and I help lottery winners with their finances. Like dad, I won’t read stories about my clients in the papers. I do everything to keep who they are confidential. My father said never to “flash your roll” in public and it is good advice.

The rich and famous have touched our lives and made them unique, in a uniquely opposite sort of way.

If James Gandolfini has made it to heaven and talking to my father, I am sure they will have a lot of stories to share.

And dad will have a chance on how to make his character more true to life.

RIP James Gandolfini and “Bingo” Joe McNay.  The updated version of Son of a Son of a Gambler, Winners, Losers and What to do When You Win the Lottery, will be released on what would have been Joe McNay’s 80th birthday

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