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BAD BET by Timothy L. O’Brien

BAD BET

The Inside Story of the Glamour, Glitz, and Danger of America's Gambling Industry

By Timothy L. O’Brien

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8129-2807-5
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

New York Times reporter O’Brien has been covering the gambling industry for a long time, and his first book is the product of that experience. With the last Powerball craze a recent memory, this volume takes on an added air of timeliness. The legal gambling industry has experienced skyrocketing growth in the past 25 years: in 1976, Americans bet $17.3 billion legally, a figure that climbed to $586.5 billion in 1996. But, as O’Brien reminds readers at several points, much of that money comes from a small percentage of gamblers. As one might expect from a book by a business reporter, numbers bulk large in O’Brien’s narrative, but much of Bad Bet is a canned history of the various elements of the gambling industry—casinos, horse racing, sports betting, charity bingo, cyber-betting, even the stock market—tied to the histories of American cities that serve as focal points for the action. O’Brien is clearly troubled by the rapid growth of what he calls “commercial gambling,” as distinct from its recreational counterpart, and the book’s tone is often inappropriately and harshly moralistic. Yet in a volume in which he manages to recount allegations of contact with organized crime by almost everybody in the US, he somehow neglects to mention Don King’s considerably checkered past. By contrast, he can make a highly dubious connection between Sega’s dominance of the children’s computer game market and the work of a subsidiary that manufactures gaming devices. The chapters are bookended by some colorful but ultimately uninformative oral histories that add little to its message. For the most part, this reads like a series of feature articles stapled together. (Author tour)