In his third book, Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, David Schwartz offers a comprehensive exploration of the history of gambling – from its most primitive forms to today’s high-tech world of high rolling.
Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research, previously examined Las Vegas as the modern mecca for gambling in Suburban Xanadu: The Casino Resort on the Las Vegas Strip and Beyond (2003). Later, he analyzed the newest – and most far-reaching – venue for gambling in Cutting the Wire: Gaming Prohibition and the Internet (2005).
In Roll the Bones he takes a comprehensive look at his subject, going back – way back – to pre-Christian times when priests “rolled the bones” to foretell the future and when hunters did so, perhaps, to divide up the results of the hunt.
One of Schwartz’s first orders of business in the book is to explain the origin of the term “bones”: The earliest dice were made from the astragalus, a bone found in the ankle of hoofed animals; it could be thrown to produce a more or less random result, similar to dice of today. Schwartz cautions, however, that, “Modern-day craps players bear little resemblance to Sumerian priests ‘rolling the bones’ for hopeful supplicants.”
Schwartz’s book covers a wide range of topics associated with gambling, including cheating, lotteries, and the 16th century origins of the science of gambling.
Schwartz conducted much of his research at UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, located in Lied Library’s special collections department. The department possesses an outstanding collection of works on gambling from which Schwartz gathered information as he traced gambling activity through the millennia.
But Schwartz pursued his topic at other locations as well, including the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., casinos in Macau, and the Wynn Las Vegas Resort and Country Club.
Las Vegas figures prominently in the book’s 592 pages, which cover such diverse topics as the poor ventilation in a Macau casino to the latest technologies employed in Las Vegas megaresorts.
The final section of the book focuses on Steve Wynn’s achievements on the Las Vegas Strip, including the Mirage, which opened in 1989 and his opening of the Wynn.
Schwartz recalled that during his tour of the Wynn Resort on opening night in 2005, he saw elements of décor from virtually every period and location he had discussed in his history of gambling. “That one casino,” he says in the book, “had in its DNA the entire history of gambling.”
Schwartz’s research on gambling continues with his current project, a biography of Jay Sarno, the man who built Caesar’s Palace and Circus Circus, thus introducing themed casinos to Las Vegas.