Victor Rocha began
a website as the Pechanga tribe began its quest for gambling.
He's a Pechanga guy who grew up in Colton, the
son of a graveyard-shift truck driver, a nothing-special teen who
preferred playing guitar to playing sports.
But he has made good.
Fifteen years ago, as Pechanga battled state law enforcement
and other casino owners to establish its gambling operation, Victor
Rocha hoped to help his tribe by learning all he could about it.
Operating on the "know your enemies" principle, he started reading
hundreds of online stories about Indian gambling to get a feel for
what Pechanga might be up against.
Why not collect what he was learning into one website so others
could benefit from his discoveries?
So pechanga.net, a Native American gambling website that is
about more than gambling, was born. Starting from nothing
no sponsors, no followers, no money the site attracts more
than 250,000 users a year, racking up more than 600,000 user sessions
and more than 2 million page views.
Victor Rocha is founder, owner and editor. His primary target
audience is native. Before the Internet, Native Americans, especially
those on reservations, lived in isolation.
"Each reservation was an island," he says.
But if he could gather information in one place, stories about
tribes from all over the country and how they were coping with their
problems, "tribes could see that they weren't alone. They could
see how other tribes were dealing with issues," he says. "I try
to bring a memory to the issues, so people aren't repeating mistakes."
Rocha takes his responsibility seriously.
His day starts about about 7 a.m., and he doesn't sleep until
2 or 3 in the morning, with a short nap in the middle. During the
day, he culls through a 100 publications a day, and another 50 at
night, plucking stories he deems important to his readers and posting
"If I sleep too long, I feel like I'm missing something," he
says. "I want when everyone wakes up to find that the latest information
Because each day he sees so many stories, both national and
international, he has a bird's-eye view of issues. I asked for his
opinion of the three biggest problems Native Americans are facing.
After some thought, he said addiction loomed as the No. 1 problem.
He's constantly seeing the damage from drugs and alcohol on people,
the way it rips the fabric of families and tribes.
Another problem is people losing contact with their culture
the ties to the land, the environment and family.
"Too many are just drifting like George Clooney in 'Gravity,'"
he says. "And this just isn't Indian people. This is everyone. It's
so important that people get a handle on self-identity."
Finally, he thinks education is critical. Gambling has been
a way for Indians to pursue education.
"Gaming is a means to an end, and that end is cultural preservation,"
In addition to his website, and with similar aims, Rocha has
been organizing conferences, national and international. He has
one coming up in London to discuss doing business with tribes, and
another in Sacramento with legislators to discuss the intricacies
of taxation and online gaming.
When not elbow-deep in gaming issues, he likes to play lead
guitar for InKompliant, a reservation band that also includes Pechanga
Chairman Mark Macarro.
"We get together to make some noise, and it's a time of music
and friendship," he says.