03/12/2004 12:00AM

Di Rocco jump-started age of simulcast


Las Vegas lost a racing pioneer last week. Charles F. Di Rocco died on Saturday, March 6, just 10 days after his 69th birthday. Chuck, as he was known to most, was founder and publisher of GamingToday, the industry's first national weekly gaming newspaper. He was also credited with being one of the visionaries in race simulcasting. It was Chuck, through his horserace dissemination service, who cut the path for the full-card simulcasting that is now the lifeline of the horse racing industry.

For the 30-plus years since his migration to this gaming mecca in the early 1970's, Di Rocco's businesses in Nevada included parlay card printing, a satellite transmission company, a horse race dissemination service and simulcasting, in addition to his publication, which started under the banner of Sports Form.

Di Rocco was a workaholic. He was one of those characters who fit Las Vegas and vice versa. As many who worked with him would say, he never let the facts get in his way. When Di Rocco felt he was on the right track, he would sink his teeth into a project like his most trusted dog, Cheech.

Di Rocco really believed that horse racing was missing the boat when he took the idea of simulcasting horse race cards to the powers that be in Las Vegas. At the time, Nevada race books were restricted to stand-alone operations removed from the mainstream casinos.

As an owner of the state's leading licensed horse race dissemination service, Di Rocco planted the seed of moving those smoke-filled race books with Damon Runyon characters to spacious, high-tech race books within the confines of the Strip's big resort hotel casinos, anchored by live, full-card horse race simulcasts from around the country. Di Rocco knew that one picture was worth a thousand prefabricated cries of "There they go" through antiquated loudspeakers that re-created a race for "entertainment purposes only." It was also worth millions of dollars in additional handle, for the books and the racing industry.

His simulcasting experiment in 1980, showing Arlington Park's card at the Union Plaza race book in downtown Las Vegas, led to the mushrooming simulcast menu that this city's race books enjoy today. It was soon thereafter that the Nevada race books became parimutuel outlets, and the rest is history. The simulcasting model of Las Vegas soon permeated racetracks and offtrack simulcast outlets throughout the United States. Although Di Rocco was not alone in his vision, he was the catalyst.

One of Di Rocco's traits was his relentlessness. Although we knew each other, I never worked for the man. But, it was not for lack of effort.

In 1985 I was working in Las Vegas for a rival upstart dissemination service. It was Sunday, Jan. 20, and I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins. About an hour before kickoff, the phone rang at my home. It was Chuck on the line. He was calling from his office and offered me a deal to work for him at his dissemination company. After listening to his pitch, I respectfully declined and finished the conversation by discussing his pick for the big game.

About 10 minutes later, the phone rings again. My wife picked up the phone while I pondered my Super Bowl bet. She talked on the phone for about half an hour, then hung up and quickly dispatched to the family room.

She said to go to Chuck's office and talk to him. Of course, I said, "What? I already talked with him and I'm staying where I am." She said, "Please go talk to Chuck." Now that I recall, I don't think she said please. I knew that watching the Super Bowl in peace was now a lost cause. So, I jumped in my car and went to his office.

Upon my arrival, only Chuck and his assistant were in the building. I walked into his office, and there on his desk was a pile of money. I quickly figured out his persuasiveness to my wife on the phone. Although I did not count the money, it was a lot of cash. Again, I declined.

I lost my Super Bowl bet, divorced soon thereafter, and landed the Garden State Park announcer's job just before the company I worked for in Las Vegas went out of the dissemination business. I lasted at Garden State just a year,.

I saw Chuck recently at an industry function. We exchanged pleasantries and reminisced about that day. He had a twinkle in his eye. Chuck never quit. As a result, Las Vegas and the horse racing business have never been the same.