Book Review : Roll The Bones - The History of Gambling

The Best Book On Gambling In The Last Five Thousand Years, BAR BAR BAR None

Posted by Chuckmonster

It's probably safe to say that the act of wagering on the outcome of an event has been a part of human instinct for about as long as procreation. Gambling is basic human instinct, regardless of what religious and conservative politicos might want you to think. Nobody explains to a child what a 'bet' is, they just bet, or dare, their friends to eat bugs, kiss girls, flip baseball cards, pitch pennies, play bottle caps, shoot marbles - pee-wee league gambling. Humans have an ingrained desire to wager valuables to satisfy their thrill of jeopardy. We all have friends who boast about not being gamblers, yet get them involved in a round of Hold'Em or plop em in front of a fancy video slot machine and the beast comes out. Wagering, of money, people or assets, has been a part of human psyche for longer than written history has recorded it.

Given the ever-presence of gambling in human psychology, it is truly amazing that it has taken a few thousand years for the history of human predilection for betting to be documented thoroughly. Roll The Bones: A History Of Gambling by Dr. David Schwartz - Head of Gaming Studies at University of Nevada Las Vegas, is the most important book on gambling written in the last five thousand years, if ever. Exhaustively researched over a two-year period, "Roll The Bones" documents the history, tools and machinations of gambling from the earliest discovery of primitive dice to the grand opening of the most advanced and expensive casino in the world - Wynn Las Vegas. Roll The Bones' twenty-one, info-stuffed chapters is not a casual airplane read, but instead a tremendous achievement that will provide every gambler with a taste for history - or vice versa - a lifetime companion. Every page is stacked with fascinating anecdotes, interesting cross-cultural linkages, dramatic swings of the political pendulum and more facts than Las Vegas has seen quarters.

Las Vegas is, for all intents and purposes, the gambling capital of the world - and a post-modern world unto itself. Its no accident that many of the resorts in Las Vegas base their theme on Earthly locations where gambling has had an exciting history. LuXor, for example, is a steel and glass replica (sort of) of the ancient Egyptian Pyramids. The commonality these constructs share is reliance on a workforce of gamblers to complete their construction. In LuXor's case, the millions of visitors to place bets at the tables and machines inside. The ancient Egyptian Pyramids were constructed of stones quarried by prisoners, most of whom were found guilty of participating in rampant illegal gambling. The population of Venice, Italy (Venetian) were instrumental in the creation of the casini, among other major contributions to the evolution of gambling. The Italians (Bellagio) as a whole played a huge role in the introduction of the traditional four suit, 52-card deck to Europe and, in turn, the rest of the world, after they got it from the Persians, who got it from the Chinese. The French (Monte Carlo, Riviera, Paris) were one of the first governments to set up legal lotteries to help pay for public projects - the prototypical Powerball. The English (who are represented with squat as far as resort themes go) incorporated casino-style gambling into resorts that were built around natural hot springs - the first ever casino spas. In North America, gambling is deeply rooted in New Orleans (Harrah's, Orleans) where craps, poker and sharpies were a part of daily life. While Roll The Bones isn't about Las Vegas specifically - check out Dr. Schwartz' Suburban Xanadu for a history of Las Vegas - many of the subjects in it will resonate with attentive and aware Vegas visitors.

Las Vegas is known as a city which chooses to cyclically rebuild itself rather than preserve its history. It is the designers, business people and architects that have defined Las Vegas' first 100 years with has a keen - and possibly unintentional - understanding of the history of gambling. As a result, today's Las Vegas is a synergetic synthesis of the global roots of gambling, grounding its current and future fruit with anchors in gambling cultures and locales of the past. It is in this current context that resortitechture of the latest wave of grand gambling halls - Wynn Las Vegas and CityCenter - are a beacon for a Las Vegas that exists in and of its own personality.

Roll The Bones thoroughly covers the evolution of gambling from all corners of the known humaniverse, with the only exception being sub-Saharan Africa. This omission is probably caused by a lack of written history in the region than any oversight by Dr. Schwartz. One can assume that tribal bookies took odds on African football games where the pigskin was a human skull. Regardless of the lack of African gambling lore, Roll The Bones is an indispensable resource. I'll bet you $5 it'll blow your mind.



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