PEOPLE OF CHANCE: Frontiers of Gambling and Society from Jamestown to Las Vegas by John M. Findlay

PEOPLE OF CHANCE: Frontiers of Gambling and Society from Jamestown to Las Vegas

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An exhaustive study of gambling in this country during the past four centuries. Equating the drive for pioneer adventure and risk-taking with the urge to gamble, Findlay describes the evolution of American wagering from Tidewater taprooms to Atlantic City craps tables, from contests that aped (unsuccessfully) the habits of the English aristocracy, through a gradual democratization that culminated in ""Keno"" and ""the nickel slot. ""One major problem Findlay faces in the opening sections of the book is the repetitiousness of the processes he describes. As each new ""frontier"" opens up, gamblers appear, set up shop, fleece the lonely, excitement-hungry settlers/drovers/bargemen/miners, and are eventually run out of town (or hanged) by the ""decent"" elements of the increasingly stable society. Whether in Charleston, Natchez or San Francisco, the story was the same--until Las Vegas, that is. Quite understandably, nearly half the text is devoted to that Monte Carlo of the desert. It is by far the most engrossing section of the book. Founded in the early 1800's, Las Vegas dozed in the desert sun until 1931. That year, the legalization of gambling in Nevada coincided with the start of the building of Boulder Dam, 30 miles from Vegas' dusty Fremont Street. Construction workers were soon pouring into the town's newly-opened gambling emporiums. Over the ensuing years, army trainees from nearby camps, Southern Californians lured by the rattle of not-too-distant dice, and bettors from across the land followed. Among the pleasure seekers was a rogues' gallery of shady operators as well as more reputable types. Casino hotels proliferated and were soon hanging out ""No Vacancy"" signs, thanks to publicity stunts, show-biz personalities, and round-the-clock diversions. Today, challenged by Atlantic City competitors and by Las Vegas residents eager to establish the city's ""respectability,"" the gambling community is facing rough times, It's a colorful tale. Though his earlier historical sections are occasionally overextended, Findlay's thesis is convincing, his writing lively and his delineation of the Vegas gambling scene revelatory--a strong hand.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press