Fear and loathing is in short supply, but there are plenty of cons and cheap hustles in this lively memoir of time spent on the seamier edge of Casinoland.
Hunter Thompson it ain’t, and that’s refreshing for a book about Las Vegas—especially with Las Vegas Weekly writer Lax (Lawyer Boy: A Case Study on Growing Up, 2008), who arrives in the capital of human frailties “at the speed limit in my mom’s SUV, carrying a dozen dress shirts, a dozen ties, a couple boxes of kitchen supplies and toiletries, a briefcase full of magic tricks, my laptop, and my mom.” Yet, like Thompson, Lax throws light on a place that seems all too familiar. A sometime lawyer and self-taught magician with a taste for what Criss Angel calls “Mindfreaks,” the author is fascinated by the elaborate ways humans have developed to part other humans from their money. There is the improbable torso augmentation of his roommate, for instance, which nets bigger tips, and the card-counting, and the Mexican turnover (“a move in which you use one card to turn over a second and switch the two in the process”). It will come as no surprise to most readers that everyone is on the make in Las Vegas, and the scholarly detachment with which Lax records it merely emphasizes the ordinariness of desperation—as when he shares an episode involving a criminal with his long-suffering mom, the Greek chorus of the tale, only to be chided for his choice of companions, to which Lax responds, “He didn’t kill anybody. He just shot some people.” Mortal peril, thankfully, doesn’t come often in these pages, which are instead populated with characters such as a 450-pound male Cher impersonator and a card junkie who tears himself away from the table long enough to offer Lax tips on being a manly man: “Stop drinking white wine for starters.”
An entertaining field guide to vice, but also one with a point—if you’re headed anywhere near the Strip, watch your wallet.