LAS VEGAS -- When the Showboat hotel was carving out its niche amid the larger resorts in Las Vegas in the early 1980s, the hotel's general manager Frank Modica had big ideas for the little property.
Long a stop on the Pro Bowlers Association Tour, the Showboat had a huge unused second-story room that Modica thought would be perfect for a sports arena.
He approached then-Chair man Joe Kelley with his idea, got the go-ahead and the Showboat Sports Pavilion in the early 1980s became a venue for professional boxing, wrestling and Los Angeles Thunderbirds roller derby games.
Frank A. Modica, who began his gaming career as a dealer in 1947 and went on to become president and chief executive officer of the Showboat and hold other top positions at the old Maxim, Landmark and Desert Inn resorts, died Sunday in Las Vegas. He was 76.
Services for the Las Vegas resident of 57 years will be noon Saturday at Palm Mortuary, 7600 S. Eastern Ave. Visitation will be 2-8 p.m. Friday at that location.
Modica, who was enshrined in the Nevada Gaming Hall of Fame in 1994, also was the chairman of the Showboat Atlantic City after overseeing its construction in the mid-1980s.
The Las Vegas Showboat was later sold to Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which in March 2003 sold the property to VSS Enterprises, which renamed it the Castaways. The resort went bankrupt and closed earlier this year.
At the time of the resort's closure, Modica told the Sun in a Jan. 30 story: "It really saddens me to think it is gone. I was thinking of all the people, all the employees, the boxing events, everything. So many memories."
Those memories included his wedding there in 1962.
Modica also lamented that his former boss and close friend Kelley had died on Jan. 7 at age 93. Together, they put the Showboat on the map as an off-the-beaten-path property that catered not only to locals but also the ever-burgeoning California crowd that drove into town for weekend getaways.
The sports pavilion put the Showboat into direct competition with the bigger properties for a piece of the tourism trade that otherwise would not have ventured so far from the Strip.
"At that time, with the exception of Caesars Palace, no one had a nice pavilion for boxing or other sporting events," Modica said in the January Sun interview. "We put in bleacher seats, and I went after the fights."
Modica brought in some of the biggest boxing stars of the era, including world champion Alexis Arguello, Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Bobby "Schoolboy" Chacon and Wilfred Benitez.
The pavilion later was converted into the Showboat's bingo hall.
Born Feb. 11, 1928, in Jamestown, N.Y., Modica served in the Army during World War II and settled in Las Vegas in 1947, where he got a job as a dealer at the Las Vegas Club downtown.
In 1959 Modica went to the Showboat as a dealer and began his rise in gaming. After holding several management positions, he was named general manager in 1965.
Modica left the Showboat to work for Howard Hughes' Summa Corp. in 1970, serving as vice president and general manager of the Landmark hotel and later in the same position at the Desert Inn.
Modica was named vice president and general manager of the Maxim just off the Strip in 1974. In 1979 he was named general manager of Major Riddle Enterprises' Holiday International Casino in downtown Las Vegas.
In 1982 Modica became executive vice president and chief operating officer of Showboat Inc. At that time, he was credited with increasing convention business at the resort and playing an instrumental role in the purchase of what became the Showboat Country Club.
Three years later, Modica was assigned by the board of directors to oversee the construction and opening of the $235 million, 500-plus-room Showboat Atlantic City. In 1989 Modica returned to Las Vegas where he was in charge of the $25 million renovation of the 460-room Las Vegas Showboat.
In 1990 Modica was named chairman of the Atlantic City Showboat. He retired in 1995.
Modica was enshrined in the Italian-American National Hall of Fame in 1992 and was named Las Vegas Man of the Year by both the Augustus Society and the Jewish War Veterans in 1993.
Also in 1993 Modica was honored with the Executive Award from the National Bowling Hall of Fame for his contributions to the growth of the Showboat Invitational Pro Bowlers Tour event.
Modica is survived by his wife, Joyce Modica of Las Vegas; one daughter, Kelli Lea Modica of Las Vegas; two brothers, Vince Modica and Phillip Modica, both of Jamestown; and one grandson, Anthony Frank Modica of Las Vegas.
His family said donations in Modica's memory can be made to the Nathan Adelson Hospice, 4141 S. Swenson St., Las Vegas, NV 89119.
Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.