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Friendship spans coast to coast

Mar 9, 2004 7:06 AM

Chuck was not only my boss but also my friend. And, after 14 years here at GamingToday, I will miss him.

Our friendship began around 1970 when we were a couple of young racetrack publicists. He was at Buffalo Raceway in upstate New York and I was at Rockingham Park in New Hampshire. A mutual friend, Stan Bergstein, formed the Harness Publicists Association, and we were recruited to join. Membership extended from New England to California and from Toronto to Miami. It was a great group of guys and we all benefited from the affiliation.

Because of his racetrack connections, and his love of Las Vegas, Chuck felt that starting a gambling newspaper in the Valley of the Dollars would be a natural. It was but the early days were tough for both Chuck and his partner, later his wife, Eileen Hutchinson Di Rocco.

They struggled along, while engaging the help of friends like Jackie and Michael Gaughan and bookmakers such as John Bennett at the Rose Bowl, Johnny Quinn at the Union Plaza, and Sammy Cohen at the Santa Anita book.

But it was Joey Boston at the old Stardust who gave Chuck his first boost. One day, when Chuck was soliciting ads at the Stardust, Joey stopped to ask about his racetrack contacts. When Chuck told him he knew just about everybody in the business, Joey said he would pay Chuck $100 a day for the morning lines of some five or six major tracks. To Chuck, the request was a breeze, despite the restrictions imposed by the Wire Act concerning racing information across state lines.

For the next two weeks, Chuck provided the entries for six major tracks and then asked Joey about being paid. "Sure," said Joey, "I have the money right here." He then started counting out $100 bills. But what Chuck expected ”” the $100 per day ”” turned into $100 per day, per track. What a bonanza!

Before getting involved with simulcasting, Chuck became friendly with Ken Uston, considered by some to be the most successful card counter ever. But what Uston needed, Chuck told him, was a promoter. Uston agreed and they formed a partnership.

Highlight of the arrangement came when Chuck challenged legendary Benny Binion, saying that Uston could beat him, and the house percentage, at a game of blackjack over a certain length of time. In fact, Chuck said, the matchup would benefit both because he had talked to ABC and they were willing to televise the event. All arrangements were made but Benny demurred and the deal fell through.

Still, the relationship with Uston was lucrative since Chuck was able to set up private instruction in card counting for wealthy players for a fee. At the time, Uston was ensconced at the Jockey Club with three female friends that Chuck referred to as Win, Place and Show.

The partnership ended when Uston was offered a movie contract that didn’t include Chuck’s participation. However, the parting was amicable.

Because Chuck was such a character (although, he didn’t like being called a character), many stories of his antics abound. One of his favorites was the "banana night" at Caesars.

Since Chuck liked to gamble and since he didn’t want his gambling to be confused with his business activities, he chose a new gambling name, Bill Bravo. Just about everybody at Caesars, the Desert Inn, the Hilton, the Tropicana, etc. knew Bill Bravo the high-roller.

It was not unusual for Chuck to play his favorite game, blackjack, for hours on end. One night at Caesars, he developed leg cramps at the 21 table. He told the dealer to stop dealing the cards. He called over to a cocktail waitress and asked that she ask the kitchen to send over a couple of bananas. The waitress returned saying there were no bananas left in the kitchen.

Frustrated, he called over a security guard, gave him some money and told him to go to the nearest market to buy some bananas. The guard did as told and returned with the bag. Chuck immediately began eating the bananas.

Meanwhile, the dealer said nothing because he was aware that Chuck had lost some $40,000 and he didn’t want to upset him. After Chuck had polished off two bananas, he told the dealer to start the game again. Miraculously, Chuck’s luck changed and he not only recovered his losses but made as much in profit.

The dealer was astounded, and couldn’t wait to spread the word of how Bill Bravo had changed his luck by eating bananas.

Another story dealt with a prominent member of the gaming community who shall remain nameless.

The individual and Chuck had lunch at a local restaurant. As time passed, Chuck noticed that his friend appeared in a hurry to leave so he asked why. The friend said he had a hot tip on a horse at Fair Grounds and he wanted to get to a racebook to get in on the action. Chuck volunteered to join him and they made their way to Caesars Palace.

After being told the name of the horse, Chuck watched his friend rush to the window to bet the horse straight and in exactas. Looking for a larger payoff, Chuck decided to take the tip on top, the favorite second and all the remaining horses for third in a $10 trifecta. Sure enough, the hot tip won and the favorite was second, giving Chuck’s friend a profit of a few hundred dollars.

But the third horse to finish was a 99-1 shot resulting in a huge trifecta payoff. In fact, for his $10, Chuck collected over $13,000, or about half the track’s trifecta pool.

Chuck’s friend was overwhelmed by Chuck’s success and later found out that the track officials had conducted an investigation into the betting patterns.

Actually, all they needed to do was to call Chuck”¦he’d have told them how easy it was!