Saturday, July 25, 2009
Gambler's Book Shop turns down casino's offer, relocates to new site
On my first visit to the Gambler’s Book Shop at its new location on East Tropicana Avenue, I found proprietor Howard Schwartz deep in a discussion on football proposition odds with a customer.
Almost immediately afterward, another customer asked about books on the intricacies of the myriad bets on a craps layout.
I had just missed a retired police officer from Brooklyn, N.Y., who ended up buying a selection of books on the mob. Pleasure reading for him, Schwartz explained.
As the Las Vegas area’s most prestigious independently owned bookstore, as a fixture on the Las Vegas betting scene, and as a gathering place for gamblers and their kindred spirits, the Gambler’s Book Shop has not missed a beat since moving from its longtime previous home at 630 S. 11th St.
“The lease was up and the neighborhood was slipping,” Schwartz said. “Businesses were falling to the right and left of us. There was no sense of neighborhood anymore. Customers were having trouble with parking and getting to us. It was all of that.”
The new spot at 1550 E. Tropicana, just east of UNLV and 2.7 miles from the MGM Grand, figures to satisfy existing customers while attracting visitors from the big Strip resorts, Schwartz said.
Schwartz considered keeping the business in the downtown area before negotiations with potential landlords continually stalled.
“They didn’t follow up,” Schwartz said. “Downtown is dying, and nobody could make a decision.”
Working in a fairly obscure reference to Buridan’s ass, Schwartz said: “It was like the donkey between two bales of hay. They can’t decide which way to go and end up starving to death. We did the best we could, and I think we made a good decision.”
Before deciding on the East Tropicana site, Schwartz even fielded one offer from a major Strip hotel to set up shop there.
In the back of his mind, though, Schwartz wondered if the casino owners would try to dictate the kind of material he could sell. A book on counting cards or a treatise on beating video poker is one thing, because most people find it difficult to master those skills and are likely to lose money trying.
But what about a memoir written by an outlaw who describes in detail how he traveled the world cheating in casinos? That might be a different story.
Because casino executives typically are so paranoid they make Captain Queeg look well-adjusted, opting out was surely a good call by Schwartz.
“I didn’t want to get into a fight over a First Amendment issue,” Schwartz said.
In the six weeks or so leading to football’s regular season, the sports betting canon takes center stage, Schwartz said. Current popular titles include football annuals such as those published by Phil Steele, and works heavy on stats such as those issued by Las Vegas author and handicapper Andy Iskoe.
“In betting sports it’s a boon, a bonanza, for the beginning to intermediate player who’s looking for some new methodology,” Schwartz said. “The advanced player, either he knows it all and doesn’t want to share it, or he doesn’t know how to market it, or it’s not cost-effective for him to put time and energy into writing a book.”
Though Schwartz and his crew remain busy transferring stock from the old location, the Gambler’s Book Shop is open for business. An official “grand opening” is planned for later in the summer, along with other touches such as a screen displaying the updated odds from various sports books.
Meanwhile, if you come into the store on a hot day, you’ll probably be offered a free bottle of water.
“It’s those little bits and pieces that build a relationship,” Schwartz said. “If someone’s here from Tasmania, maybe we’ll talk about the casinos in Australia. With someone else, I’ll say ‘thank you’ in Portuguese or Vietnamese or whatever. That’s what this business is about, it’s people. It’s about money, sure, but it’s really about people.”
Since it was founded in 1964 by John and Edna Luckman, the Gambler’s Book Shop has attracted customers drawn by the camaraderie as much as books and information, Schwartz said.
“John Luckman was correct,” Schwartz said. “He said he wanted a place where gamblers could talk about things and feel comfortable and so forth.
So even though we have moved, maybe that’s the part of the tradition we keep going.”
Las Vegas Sun, July 25, 2009