People of Chance

People of Chance : Gambling in American Society from Jamestown to Las Vegas

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In 1978 the Reverend Billy Graham himself consecrated Las Vegas's place in the American cultural mainstream by taking his "crusade for Christ" there. He found the resort "a nice place to visit," and pointed out that, while he did not gamble himself, the Bible said nothing definitive against the practice. This book is a social history of American gambling in a series of frontier settings ranging from seventeenth-century Jamestown to twentieth-century Nevada. The book points out the affinity between gambling and frontiers, showing how both thrived on high expectations, risk-taking, opportunism and movement, and both helped to shape a distinctive culture. The first half of the book paints a vivid picture of gambling in the colonial and early national frontiers, on the Missiissippi River, and in the California Gold Rush. Findlay describes how in the ninteenth century progessional gamblers, operating in towns and riverboats along the Mississippi, popularized casino games, and then tells how these gaming practices were transported to the mining frontiers of the Far West. The second half of the book traces Las Vegas' rise as America's ultimate resort. The culmination of almost four centuries of westward migration and chance-taking by Americans, Las Vegas represents a link between America's frontier past and the contemporary values of the Sunbelt culture. About the Author: John J. Findlay is Assistant Professor of United States History at the Pennsylvania State University.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 278 pages
  • 157.48 x 233.68 x 25.4mm | 635.03g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Ill.
  • 0195037405
  • 9780195037401

Review Text

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. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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