Chuck Di Rocco 1935-2004

Mar 9, 2004 6:55 AM

Charles F. "Chuck" Di Rocco, founder and publisher of GamingToday, and gaming proponent whose visionary approach to horse race simulcasting changed the course of wagering both in Nevada and throughout the country, died on Saturday. He observed his 69th birthday on Feb. 25.

A former racing publicist and newspaperman, Di Rocco came to Las Vegas in the mid 1970’s and founded the nation’s first gaming newspaper, Sports Form, focusing initially on both racing and sports. He later expanded the newspaper coverage to include all of gaming as well as entertainment and industry news, and changed the newspaper’s name to GamingToday.

In addition to publishing GamingToday, Di Rocco’s companies print most of Las Vegas’ parlay cards for race and sports books, as well as the horse racing "wallboards" used in race books.

Di Rocco also published National Airlines’ in-flight magazine, Flyer, until the Las Vegas-based airline was forced out of business nearly two years ago.

However, it was his vision to bring horse racing into the sports books of Nevada that fired his creative juices. In 1980, with the help of friends at Arlington Park in Chicago, Di Rocco invited both racing and casino executives to the Union Plaza Hotel in downtown Las Vegas and conducted the first simulcast of a complete racing program. He then lobbied the state’s gaming regulators to develop a program that would permit Nevada books to show the live racing in their establishments and to accept wagers accordingly.

Through the 1980’s, while still publishing his newspaper, Di Rocco pioneered his simulcasting project and even extended his recommendation to racetrack operators that they consider adding simulcasting of other race signals as an adjunct to their live racing programs. Although the racing industry was reluctant to heed Di Rocco’s advice, simulcasting soon became a revenue enhancer and now is responsible for as much as 85% of a racetrack’s revenues.

After selling his simulcasting business in 1991, Di Rocco returned to his first love, newspaper publishing. He immediately realized that Las Vegas was evolving from individual ownership to corporate participation, a result primarily of the influence of Howard Hughes.

And when the Nevada Gaming Control Board approved the Hilton Hotel Corp. petition to begin establishing casinos in what was then called "foreign" jurisdictions, meaning any state other than Nevada, Di Rocco realized that information regarding these gaming companies would be prized by investors as well as analysts on Wall Street.

He then began expanding his newspaper to cover financial areas and even became the first person to sponsor a gaming company seminar during the Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The seminar, moderated by Paul Kangas of the popular PBS Nightly Business Report, featured several of the most prominent Wall Street gaming analysts.

Because of his relationships within the gaming community, he often was called upon to advise an analyst on certain happenings in Las Vegas. Calls from such established publications as Business Week were not unusual.

Of course, involvement in gaming investments never interfered with his "investments" in horse racing, a practice that he embraced as a teenager and which lasted throughout his life. Readers of his column, Marker Down, were rewarded over the years with some big-priced payoffs when they followed his selections for the Kentucky Derby.

His interest in the community also was well known and when his good friend, the late Shannon Bybee, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, professor was assisting in fund raising for what later became the Stan Fulton Gaming Institute, Di Rocco donated $100,000 for the GamingToday Conference Room.

A native of Philadelphia, Pa., Di Rocco attended local schools but was most proud of his days at Penn State University. He worked for several mid-Atlantic newspapers before being assigned to cover racing. He then joined the corps of racing publicists and served in that capacity at tracks from the East Coast to Colorado.

He even gained national prominence in the early 1960s when he pioneered the use of trading stamps at Latonia Race Course in northern Kentucky. In fact, promotions were to become his forte.

In New York, he arranged for a wedding between a jockey and a girl who worked at the track’s hot dog stand. The ceremony took place in the paddock before a standing-room-only crowd of fans and media. He even arranged for a dentist/horse bettor to fly to New York to fix the bride’s teeth, so "they’d look good in the publicity photographs."

While doing publicity at Latonia Race Course, now called Turfway Park, in Florence, Ky., he met and married the late Patricia Ryan. They had one son, Edward.

But Di Rocco was most dedicated to his beloved GamingToday. Publishing the nation’s first gaming newspaper for Di Rocco was a labor of love.

And it was reflected in his work. Over the years, his columns and stories won numerous writing awards, including Best Columnist from the Nevada Press Association.

And two years ago, Di Rocco was honored by the American Gaming Association with its Lifetime Achievement Award for producing the "Bible" of the gaming industry, according to AGA President Frank Fahrenkopf Jr.

"Chuck was always ahead of the curve," Fahrenkopf said. "He’s deserving of the award for contributions to gaming through comprehensive media coverage as well as other achievements."

In addition to his son, he leaves his wife and longtime business partner, Eileen Hutchinson Di Rocco, two sisters and several nieces and nephews.

Funeral arrangements will be handled by Palm Mortuary (7600 S. Eastern Ave.), which will hold a viewing from 4-7 p.m., Thursday.

A funeral mass will be held at 10:30 a.m., Friday, at St. Joseph Husband of Mary Catholic Church (7260 W. Sahara Ave.), with interment to follow at Palm Mortuary (7600 S. Eastern Ave.).