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Mar 9, 2004 9:13 AM

News of Chuck Di Rocco’s passing spread quickly, even over the weekend before the news officially became public. Here are a few comments from just some of his many friends, colleagues and business associates who were able to contact GamingToday before the newspaper’s Monday deadline.

High on Di Rocco’s list of business confidantes was J. Terrence Lanni, chairman and chief executive officer of MGM MIRAGE, the world’s largest gaming company.

"I developed a friendship with Chuck from my earliest days in Las Vegas 27 years ago," Lanni recalled on Monday. "Chuck was a unique individual and special character. He had a particular feel for the heart of a gambler and his keen insights into what mattered most to this specialized segment of our population was reflected clearly in every issue of GamingToday.

"The Las Vegas that the world has come to know and love was built upon the personalities of people like Chuck," Lanni continued. "As a community, we will all mourn his loss and celebrate his many contributions to our collective success. On a personal note, I have lost a great friend."

Frank Fahrenkopf, American Gaming Association president and CEO, was also a longtime friend who met Di Rocco during the 1970s, when Fahrenkopf was a lawyer working in Reno and Di Rocco was putting forth a "very strange concept of channeling races into race and sports books.

"The Nevada gaming industry has lost a truly great pioneer and advocate ”¦ he’s one of the most knowledgeable gaming advocates that I have ever known. Personally, I’ve lost an old client and a dear friend," Fahrenkopf said.

Attorney Frank Schreck, one of the leading gaming counselors in the state, also took up the battle with Di Rocco in the early years of race simulcasting.

"Chuck was a wonderful client, because he was always an innovator," Schreck recalled. "He somehow always understood where race book betting was going, and he had a regulatory perspective on how to do simulcasting.

"In addition, Chuck was literally the first to promote computerized sports betting," Schreck continued. "He was just so far ahead of his time in those regards."

Schreck added that, after simulcasting was eventually approved and the infrastructure put in place, Di Rocco was free to pursue his labor of love: newspaper writing.

"His whole life was writing, it’s what he loved to do best," Schreck explained. "He always had the scoop on everybody in his Heard on the Strip columns.

"I suspect the reason for his success was that everyone respected him," he said. "From the steward at the track to the top CEO, he was conversant with all of them and respected by all of them as well.

"Chuck was a very special person in this industry, a kind of a Damon Runyan character who brought a unique personality to the industry," Schreck said. "I will certainly miss him."
Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports operations for Stations Casinos, said Di Rocco was "a character in a nice way, a unique kind of guy.

"Chuck was a good friend for many years," Manteris said. "He was charming, engaging and always fun. He was a tough businessman and we have had our battles, but I always respected him.

"In the end, it should be written that he was the father of the modern simulcast industry, not only in Nevada but across the country. No question he’ll be missed," Manteris said.

Sports books directors, or "bookies" as they were once colorfully called, were especially close to Di Rocco, whose Sports Form, which preceded GamingToday, was the first real publication dedicated to sports betting.

"Anyone in the industry for any length of time knew of Chuck Di Rocco," said John Avello, director of race and sports at Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas. "He changed the way we do betting in Nevada and all over the country in horse racing. Chuck was instrumental for bringing in the actual simulcast signal."

Avello called DiRocco, "a charming guy who was tuned in to what was happening within the gaming industry.’’

"People wanted to know about the pipes in the weekly Heard on the Strip columns," Avello said. "Chuck loved the scuttlebutt in the Las Vegas gaming arena and he knew everyone else did too. I am so sorry to hear of his passing."

Chuck Esposito, director of race and sports at Caesars Palace, called DiRocco, "a great friend, who did a lot for the industry."

"With GT, he became a soundboard for the gaming industry, informing people as to what was going on and helping the entire business grow to where it is today," Esposito said. "I know Chuck for 10 years and I always thought of him as a colorful individual. He always had an interesting story to tell. His death is a real loss for gaming."

Jay Kornegay, director of race and sports at Imperial Palace, said he knew nobody in the gaming industry that worked harder than DiRocco.

"GamingToday was Chuck," Kornegay said. "The publication revolved around him. He had a lot of good people surrounding him. I’ve had a working relationship with him for 16 years, ever since I came to Vegas. We all looked forward to reading GT every week. It is the respected source in the industry."

Keith Glantz, Associated Press oddsmaker since 1983, said he thought of DiRocco each time he saw a racing simulcast or ate in his favorite Italian restaurant.

"We both liked Anna Bella," said Glance, who first met DiRocco in 1986. "We just loved the same food and that was our place, along with Ferraro’s. He didn’t have to twist my arm hard for us to go there for a great meal."

Glance said that Di Rocco was responsible for the development of the off-track betting industry.

"If it weren’t for Chuck’s foresight, race books in Nevada and in OTB establishments around the country wouldn’t have reached the stage they are today," Glance said. "They all followed his lead. Chuck and I always got along very well."

Among the bookies who knew Di Rocco from his earliest years in Las Vegas was Sid Diamond.

"I knew Chuck from the 1970s — we met, appropriately enough, at Del Mar — and I really liked him," Diamond said. "He was the type of guy who fought for every inch he ever got. With the simulcasting service, had plenty of battles, but when he thought it was right, he hung in there and never backed off. He was one of the great innovators in the sports gaming business. And I’ve lost a helluva friend."

In addition to his affinity for bookies, Di Rocco for decades cultivated deep-rooted friendships with the industry’s top leaders. From CEO’s such as Arthur Goldberg and Henry Gluck to Bob Stupak and Bobby Baldwin, to entertainers such as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como.

While many of his closest friends preceded him in death, gaming luminaries and community leaders were quick to offer their sentiments.

George Maloof, co-owner of Palms Casino Resort and the Sacramento Kings said Di Rocco’s death was a very sad day for Las Vegas and the gaming industry.

"I knew him for 10 or 15 years and he was just so passionate about his work," Maloof said. "Chuck always had things figured out and was always respectful of information you gave him."

Maloof said Di Rocco and GamingToday was "one of the few places where you had a chance to talk about things written about you."

"He made it a point to get the facts right," Maloof said. "This was a fair guy and that’s so hard to find in the media."

Bob Moretti, chief executive officer of Las Vegas Dissemination Co. and a former executive with Dirson Enterprises (the parent of Gaming Today), said, "Chuck was a magical guy. For someone from Philadelphia who came here with barely 10 cents in his pocket, he made a major impact on this city and he will be missed."

"Every Tuesday you looked forward to Gaming Today," Lurie said. "His paper was basically the way you kept informed over what was happening in the industry. He will be missed."