DiRocco's made an impact in Vegas

DiRocco's made an impact in Vegas

August 29, 2018 3:00 AM
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Eileen DiRocco has sold GamingToday and can retire with peace of mind.

Eileen’s title is Publisher/CEO of GamingToday but she is so much more than that. She took over what was once called Sports Form after her husband Chuck passed. Those of us who fondly remember Sports Form and Chuck as an underdog entry and lightning rod that stood up to and overcame some powerful forces are thankful Eileen stayed so close to her roots. She understood who and what “brung her to the dance.” Without missing a beat she humbly kept Chuck’s work visions alive. Thank you, Eileen

The following is my first article for GamingToday written July 29, 2014.

Chuck DiRocco started Sports Form newspaper in 1976 as a labor of love in a small, second floor office on Main Street. Later he moved to a store-front on Industrial Road and I would visit him in those cramped quarters occasionally. Eventually the paper grew into GamingToday.

Chuck, from Norristown in the Philadelphia area, was a visionary with a “take no prisoners” entrepreneurial spirit. He built a business that was involved in, and influenced, nearly every facet of the racebook industry in Nevada. From that little store-front location Chuck took on some very powerful people. He brought his pet French bulldog, Charlie, with him to the office every day and it was a dead heat as to who was the real bulldog.

Chuck pioneered bringing live simulcasts to Nevada’s racebooks. First, however, he had to convince the Gaming Commission he was suitable to be granted an unrestricted license and prove simulcasts of live races would be safe from corruption. That was quite a load for a guy who came to Las Vegas with no “juice.”

After he got the thumbs up from gaming regulators, his next hurdle was to sell the casinos and stand-alone racebook owners. (Not all racebooks were in casinos in those days.) To do this he came up with a unique presentation. His sales pitch was bringing in a single race from Arlington Park in Chicago. He set up a big screen in the showroom at the Union Plaza downtown to display his dream project and invited all the owners and racebook managers.

What happened next was the telling point that live simulcasts would be a huge success. Just before post time of that single race, without prompting, the showroom almost emptied as guests ran out to the racebook to bet on the race, myself included (a loser of course). That’s all the owners needed to see – they were sold! Simulcasts and horse bettors are an entry. Simulcast races haven’t looked back since.

On numerous occasions, Chuck said, “If you aren’t my friend you must be my enemy.” Being a visionary with a hard-nosed drive to get it done, he made a few enemies. So what as far as Chuck was concerned – get with him or get out of the way.

Among those he stirred up were a few gaming regulators who thought he should cease his friendship with a tainted jockey named Con Errico or possibly lose his gaming license. But Errico was his friend and Chuck didn’t abandon him. He stood by Errico in spite of the threat, saying Con had paid his debt to society with jail time, and there was nothing wrong or illegal about their friendship.

Chuck DiRocco was a stand-up guy. If I had to pick someone to go on a bank job with me it would be Chuck. In 2004 Chuck passed away and a who’s who of Las Vegans, including myself, attended his funeral.

The days before live simulcast races are gone to memories. Also gone are the haunts and the characters that inhabited them. The stand-alone race/sportsbooks have been bulldozed into oblivion to make way for huge hotel/casinos. The most revered of those old haunts was Churchill Downs Race & Sportsbook (not associated with the Kentucky track). It stood where the Paris now stands, and next week we’ll tell you a bit about it.