Victor is an enrolled member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, owners and operators of the very successful Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, Calif. Like many of the band’s members, Victor has known hardship, has known poverty and has known the struggle for sovereignty, opportunity and self-determination in dealing with an often contemptuous and ignorant non-Indian world.
Like many California tribes the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians experienced some taste of economic success in gaming in the 1980s and 1990s, first with bingo and later with “grey market” slot machine gambling. Then at the turn of the century the passage of California propositions 1 and 1A legitimized tribal gaming in the state and allowed many tribes to achieve major economic success for the first time.
However, the passage of those gambling propositions did not come easy, as anti-gamers, other California gambling companies (racetracks, card clubs, etc.) and Las Vegas entities lined up against the California tribes, seeking to thwart their right to have gambling on their reservations. Enter Victor Rocha.
Although young and having very little business experience, Victor had deep tribal pride and passion for the tribes’ just pursuit of economic self-determination. Motivated by the misinformation and fear-mongering being used by some of the opponents of propositions 1 and 1A, Victor saw the need for an information network of public news sources to keep the tribes and their supporters abreast of what was being spoken and written during these political battles over the gambling initiatives.
So Victor created Pechanga.net, a daily Internet posting of gaming news of interest and of political ramifications for tribal nations and in many cases it was news that demanded a quick and accurate response. With the Internet just beginning to take root and not yet ubiquitous (remember this was a decade ago), Victor had the vision to create a Web site of news links where people could easily browse stories on gaming from all over the world. And in the beginning (and for several years) it took him many hours each day to gather these links to gaming stories and post them on Pechanga.net. He truly had established a vital communications network among tribal nations and their supporters and had become a behind-the-scenes, unsung hero in the Indian gaming community.
It might have ended there, but Victor Rocha was energized. He saw the several thousand hits he received each day on Pechanga.net and he saw the possibility of something more. He began adding news links to not just gaming items but to items about issues of tribal governments, about stories from the reservations, about political happenings in Washington. He began linking to informative blogs and Facebook pages, including his own. He discovered commercial applications for Pechanga.net. And before you knew it, Victor was an Internet social communications pioneer and, willingly or not, was thrust into the ongoing debate on the explosive growth of Indian gaming.
As I have become friends with Victor over the past decade I have watched him assume this somewhat unlikely and certainly unasked for mantle of “tribal gaming leader”. But once thrust into the role, Victor has embraced it with passion, with candor and with a true caring for all Indian people. While not afraid to be controversial or to stiffen his resolve when called for, he also knows how to create strategic friendships and alliances where they can benefit Indian nations. And if you have never heard Victor Rocha speak in a gaming industry forum you have missed someone who with no prepared remarks can assault your head with uncommon straightforwardness and logic while grabbing your heart with tenderness and passion.
Victor might make you laugh one minute and get you all riled up the next. He might entertain you with his guitar and his iconic rock band one night and grab you with a call for Indian justice from some high-powered podium the next. He might share a poignant tribal story on his Web site in one posting and slap “Moron Alert” on a particularly stupid or racist story in another.
Victor Rocha makes me proud to be in the gaming industry. And if you have passion, an uncommon communications network and an ability to speak freely and truthfully to your constituents you probably could duplicate his success.
You just knew there had to be a marketing lesson in Victor’s wonderful story, didn’t you?.