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04/18/2008: trust everyone, but always cut the cards.

aight, i finally finished a few books and since they all shared a common gambling theme, i thought i would give a little about each in a single post.

I'll Do My Own Damn Killin' by Gary Sleeper: i really enjoyed this book. it was a bit repetitive in the middle section, but overall, reading about the rise of Benny Binion was what i expected, which is to say, informative and exciting. i got my start in poker after reading James McManus' excellent Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, so this book kinda completes the Binion empire's story. but Gary Sleeper's book isn't just about Binion, it is also about the Herbert Noble, the petty criminals who made up their gangs, and the battle for the gambling rackets that made Dallas (and Fort Worth) the gambling center of Texas (and the South.) the policy rackets (numbers games) were big business in central Texas during the early oil boom and some might argue that you can trace Texas' acceptance of the state lottery as an extension of this history. the book goes deep into the conflict between Binion and Noble, a fight that appears to have destroyed Noble's personal life and left Binion mostly unscathed (guess that move to Vegas with $3mil cash in the trunk of Binion's car was a smart decision.) this book's got some great photos from the times and really draws heavily from the published accounts on record (Sleeper has obvious done a ton of research, as evidenced from the bibliography.) if you found McManus' book interesting, or just like Texas crime drama, this book won't disappoint.

Jackpot Nation: Rambling and Gambling Across Our Landscape of Luck by Richard Hoffer: if the numbers rackets were popular in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, then Hoffer draws a pretty good path to the new national obsessions of gambling, from scratch-off tickets, to lotteries, Native American casinos, race tracks and parimutuel betting, etc. it certainly shows the dark side of our true national pastime, gambling, but it isn't a browbeating book; some of the objectivity might come from Hoffer's own admissions to gambling issues. either way, it is an informative read and does a good job to show how gambling is intrinsically in our nation's lifeblood. the stories of "meat raffles" made me sad, and yet was still humorous. now out in paperback, an easy book to pickup and polish off in a few sittings.

Storming Las Vegas: How a Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down the Strip to the Tune of Five World-Class Hotels, Three Armored Cars, and Millions of Dollars by John Huddy: and we go from national pastime to Las Vegas crime wave...Huddy chronicles the exploits of a Cuban-born, Mariel Boatlift survivor who goes from cocaine kingpin to casino looter. it is an expose that highlights the violence of the Jose Vigoa's life and his struggle to become rich at any cost. while the initial chapters detailing Vigoa's childhood, Soviet Spetsnaz training, and escape from Cuba dragged for me, once Vigoa hits the U.S., the sparks fly. a decent true crime narrative that i found interesting...so i was able to polish it off in days.

Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman, and the Race to Own Las Vegas by Christina Binkley: the last published, Binkley's account follows the rise of modern Las Vegas, the excesses of it's new fathers and the insane money involved in making the current adult play land. of all the mega-millionaires/billionaires who are listed with their empires, it's Kerkorian who comes off as the most business-like and most shrewed. Wynn's profile is just as you might read in Vanity Fair: while obviously smart and driven, he can be self-adborbed and whiny; but then again, he's worth billions and i am not, so take that! if you are interested in the back story of how Las Vegas went from its gangster origins to corporate ownership, Binkley's book lays it out, with all the major players detail. Bobby Baldwin (The Owl!!) gets some attention; he's obviously made some serious coin in his role with the Bellagio/Mirage/Mandalay resorts. overall, an interesting read that catches us up with the current state of Vegas.

there you have it: four good gambling-related books. i was satisfied with each and can recommend each.

now i can move onto new topics to read!


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