The metaphysics of chance have mesmerized the high and the low since Columbus passed the time playing cards and no one--not lawmakers, not moralists, not Gambler's Anonymous--has been able to stop the itch. Longstreet, who knows a little about ""house odds,"" ""stripped decks,"" and other techniques used to denude rubes, speeds through a highly selective, anecdotal history of gambling in the US, concentrating on the most flamboyant high-rollers in the most picturesque surroundings. He's right at home on the ante-bellum Mississippi riverboats where muttonchop-whiskered dandies set the tone; or painting splendors of Saratoga where high society gambled in luxury and horse racing came into its own. Raunchier were the frontier saloons and mining camps where Bat Masterson or Doc Holiday downed rot-gut whiskey and kept pistols at the ready when sitting in on a game. By contrast, bingo (""the Church sees bingo as being as 'natural as conjugal rights"") and numbers get the most meager coverage, though Longstreet admits that the numbers racket is the richest gambling setup in the nation. There's a bit about the games themselves--keno and three-card monte are for the suckers, pros prefer dice or blackjack--and a desultory account of how a nice California couple spent a ritualized gambling weekend in Las Vegas where 80 percent of such couples wake up losers on Monday morning. Longstreet's gamblers tend to fit the image of old Western movies: smooth-talking, courtly gents, romantics, and pathological liars. Most credible is the conclusion that gamblers usually die paupers. Amidst all the tall tales Longstreet circulates freely, that has the ring of truth.