winning strategy for gamblers: Read first
in Las Vegas: It sounds like a movie parody, but
plenty of Vegas-style reading can be found at
place of logic and calm in the midst of a maelstrom
of the turbulent atmosphere of gambling,"
proprietor Howard Schwartz calls it.
The book shop sits
anonymously along a boulevard of shopping centers,
far from the Las Vegas Strip. It's home to thousands
of titles on everything from horse racing ("Blinkers
Off"), to poker strategy (Doyle Brunson's
venerable "Super/System") to the history
of dice ("Dice: Deceptions, Fate and Rotten
Luck," by Ricky Jay). Not to mention that
1933 classic, "Cheating at Bridge."
There are books on
mob history, software to teach video poker strategy,
and videotapes to enlighten viewers about "tells"
-- players' expressions and ticks that betray
the cards they hold.
Smart gamblers, Schwartz
says, "read before they act. The not-so-smart
ones at least understand they need a book after
they lose, so it helps you understand why you
win, why you lose and maybe why you gamble."
sells new merchandise, the store has a used-book
shop feel, with narrow aisles, fluorescent lighting,
wooden shelves built onto the walls and, above
those, framed photos of prominent gamblers. Employees-only
back rooms are filled with tall shelves holding
tomes on casino management, rare volumes from
the 1870s on horse breeding and boxes of pamphlet-size
wiry, in his early 60s, with alert eyes and a
manner that's at once soothing and exasperated,
like a counselor on a suicide hotline who thinks
some callers are whiners. He says some of his
regular customers are "impetuous -- sometimes
like children, sometimes adults." He calls
gambling a merry-go-round -- a pleasant place
to spend a short time, a lousy place to live a
He has a measured
way of speaking that brings to mind the character
of Dr. Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist who appeared
in a dozen episodes of the "M*A*S*H"
television series. Schwartz mixes psychological
insight with gambling advice as he does his best
to align gamblers' expectations with reality.
here as disseminators of information, with a little
bit of feeling for people with these great dreams,"
he says. "I try to tell them: Bet with moderation.
Understand that you've got to get off the merry-go-round.
You're not supposed to stay in Disneyland for
a week. You're supposed to have some fun and go
back and smell the roses. And understand what
money management is, and how good people win,
and what kind of discipline you need to beat whatever
game you're playing."
Schwartz started working
for the shop 25 years ago, when founders John
and Edna Luckman hired him to edit two magazines
the store published. The store's original name
was Gambler's Book Club, and the Luckmans envisioned
it as a place where gamblers could meet, discuss
their avocation and buy books about it, without
feeling ostracized. Since then, the store's name
has changed, the Luckmans have died, and now Schwartz
runs the place.
Before he started
working at Gambler's Book Shop, Schwartz had been
an aide to Ralph Nader, a medical science writer,
a journalist and a reading teacher. Now he blends
the skills he used in his former careers: He's
a consumer protector (he won't stock a book if
it's hokum), a book reviewer and catalogue writer,
and an adviser. ("I'm no genius with mathematics,
but I can recommend you to the correct book or
the right person.")
Some of those recommended
books have been published by the store. In the
early years of the business, John Luckman sought
gambling books whose copyrights had expired, then
he printed and sold new editions. He published
primers with names such as "The Facts of
Blackjack," and was the first publisher of
David Sklansky's pioneering book, "Hold 'Em
Poker," in 1976.
Nowadays the most
popular titles are about poker, video poker and
sports betting. Each pastime appeals to distinct
personality types, and Schwartz waxes poetic when
he describes the variety of the store's customers.
"You get all these
strange characters -- the geniuses, dreamers,
funny people, movie stars, writers, aspiring gamblers.
All of them come in like they're visiting some
merry-go-round. It's everybody. There's people
like these little old ladies who want to learn
how to play video poker or improve their mah jongg
game or play hearts or canasta or darts or whatever
it might be."
The store's influence
extends beyond Las Vegas to Hollywood. Schwartz
and his employees have consulted movie productions.
Robert Altman's people wanted to know how a 1930s
craps table would have looked for the film "Kansas
City." Producers of two Wyatt Earp movies
wanted to know how a game called faro would have
been dealt, and the makers of a movie about Wild
Bill Hickok wanted to know how 19th-century five-card
stud players would have held their cards.
Someday Schwartz would
like to indulge his enthusiasm for history and
take a gamble of his own -- far away from a casino.
"I'd like to go
out with a metal detector and go looking for buried
treasure in Bedford County, Virginia," he
says. "One of the most famous treasures in
the country may be out there and people have been
looking for it for 100 years."
Another career in
a varied life.