Growing up in 1970s Inland Empire California, Victor Rocha’s greatest desire was no different than hundreds of other teenage boys in the region-he wanted to play guitar and front his own rock ‘n roll band, one that would hopefully be as big a smash as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the other groups he listened to and admired.
Life, however, had different plans for Rocha. In 1998, he enlisted in the campaign to win a state gaming compact for his tribe, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, in hope of developing a casino on reservation lands in Temecula, Calif.
“I started working at a recording studio right out of high school and figured I’d be a guitarist, artist and bohemian for the rest of my life,” Rocha, 49, said. “But then Indian gaming happened in California. Mark Macarro, my cousin and best friend, was named chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and he got involved with state compact negotiations. I decided to help.”
While researching the Internet for material to support the tribe’s casino effort, Rocha quickly realized there was a wealth of information on gaming and other Native American issues in the Net ether, but no central repository for the Web novice to easily access, read and react on this information. The proverbial light bulb went off in Rocha’s head and from this germ of an idea Pechanga.net sprang.
“I saw all this information on Indian Country-water issues in Montana, land rights in New Mexico, and thought there could be real value and importance if all this information could be gathered and shown in one place,” Rocha said. “In my mind’s eye, I still see the typical reader of my site as a Native American at a computer trying to figure out what is going on. I still think that is the person that needs and is looking for this type of information.”
With little business experience, limited capital and no fanfare, Rocha created Pechanga.net in 1998 and the fledgling website helped mobilize the California tribal gaming industry, and public opinion, toward a transformational political victory with the passage of Proposition 5, also known as the Tribal-State Gaming Compacts Initiative. This helped clear the way for the development and opening of Pechanga Resort & Casino in 2002.
Fast forward to 2011 and Pechanga.net remains a vital source of information not only for Native American issues such as education, housing and sacred sites, but on a whole host of commercial gaming categories from casinos and racinos to lotteries and online wagering. A measure of the site’s ongoing popularity is that it averages some 70,000 hits each day and 30,000 or more visits every month. Pechanga.net visitors hail from across the globe, with steady readers based in such far away gaming locales as India, South Africa and The Ukraine.
The site has also made Rocha one of the most powerful voices in Indian gaming and he has been a featured speaker at numerous political and industry gatherings.
“I’m always amazed that so many people still visit and read my Web site and how influential it has become,” Rocha said. “When I started, the Internet was still so wide open. We were all going on the Internet and looking for something that appealed to us. To me, I felt like the windows to the Library of Congress were left open and I could crawl inside there and search and dig and find stuff to me heart’s desire. It just appealed to who and what I am. It still does.”
For creating, operating and guiding Pechanga.net to its current status as the go-to tool for casino information, Rocha has been selected to receive a Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award at the eighth annual Casino Marketing Conference, July 18-20, at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.
“We established the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to all the areas of casino marketing, including public relations and communications, which are critical to the gaming industry’s success,” said Dennis Conrad, president and chief strategist of Raving Consulting Company, co-producer of Casino Marketing Conference with BNP Media, the parent company ofCasino Journal. “Victor Rocha is yet another deserving winner and we look forward to honoring him this year.”
This recognition and success has not come easy however. Although the latest version of Pechanga.net uses technology that makes it more robust and user friendly, the task of finding the information that populates the site is still done manually, according to Rocha. It is a very time consuming process.
“When I started the site the average work day was 16-18 hours,” Rocha said. “I did not have a day off for the first four years. I even worked during my honeymoon. It’s not as hectic now, but I still work super hard because I know there are a lot of people out there reading it.”
Rocha is not content to rest on his laurels either. Although he launched an updated version of the site in February, he is already working on future iterations of Pechanga.net. His plan is to create mypechanga.net, a more personalized version of the current site.
And he does not plan on stopping anytime soon. “I’ve been at this 13 years and I feel I could go another 20 years,” Rocha said. “The key to doing what I do is that I am passionate about it. I think it shows. I always tell people if you want to start an Internet business, do something you are passionate about and chances are there’s people out there who are as passionate about it as you.”