Las Vegas, and how it got that way.
Wall Street Journal columnist Binkley focuses on the three visionaries—dissimilar in temperament, sensibility and manner—who have returned the luster and glamour to Sin City after its benighted tenure as a tacky family vacation spot. Casino magnate Steve Wynn (the Mirage, the Bellagio) receives the lion’s share of the attention—and for good reason. Charismatic, voluble, driven and, tragically, slowly going blind, Wynn assumes the dimensions of a tragic Shakespearean king, obsessively building overwhelmingly deluxe pleasure palaces filled with fine art and world-class entertainment, spas and restaurants in an orgy of hubris and overspending. His nemesis, Kirk Kerkorian (MGM Grand), is in every way his opposite: a fastidious, self-effacing operator who lives for the killer deal and brokers multibillion-dollar transactions well into his 80s. Finally there is Gary Loveman, a clean-living former economics professor who revolutionized the gaming industry with impossibly complex consumer behavior-predicting formulas targeting low-rollers, sending the revenues for the down-market Harrah’s chain into the stratosphere. The most interesting bits come when things go wrong: The sad story of the misguided attempt to open a modern, ultra-luxe supercasino in Mississippi is, as rendered by Binkley, a small comic classic of class confusion and cultural misunderstanding, rich in schadenfreude. The author has a novelist’s instinct for character development and taut, suspenseful storytelling, infusing the subject with all of the drama, verve and what-happens-next imperative of a classic Scorsese epic. It’s a quintessentially American story, full of money, ego, competition, vice and the stubborn belief that transcendence is just around the next corner, waiting for someone with the vision and guts to grab it.
As exhilarating as a high-stakes game of craps.