Main Street

It's a typical day at Gambler's Book Shop. A screenwriter roots through the stacks for details on the psychology of high rollers. Some local FBI agents bone up on gambling techniques and lingo. Clerks field a dozen calls from folks wanting to know how to open a bingo parlor. "This is like a giant stage," says Howard Schwartz, the Las Vegas company's marketing director. "And I'm like a little kid, nose pressed against the window, watching them."

Schwartz spies two guys conferring quietly beneath photos of Vegas's famous and infamous. He wagers they're casino workers. Good bet. The pair run a casino -- in Hungary. "When you find someone who cheats in Hungary, what do you do?" Schwartz asks. "Say, 'OK, no goulash for a year?" After pointing the visitors toward a row of books, Schwartz wanders off to help another customer find sports-betting advice.

In a city better known for bookies than for books, Gambler's Book Shop (a.k.a. Gambler's Book Club) is a literary oasis. Tucked away on a side street two miles from the Strip's neon glare, the business carries 1,000 titles, 10% of them published by GBS itself. The shelves are stocked with how-to books ( Play Poker, Quit Work, Sleep Till Noon), scholarly tomes ( Going for Broke: The Depiction of Compulsive Gambling in Film), and even the occasional classic (Dostoyevsky's The Gambler). There are also some 5,000 used volumes, as well as tapes, software, mob cookbooks, even a brothel directory.

Fittingly, it took a local casino dealer by the name of John Luckman to bring a joint like GBS to Vegas. In the early 1960s, Luckman, who spent long hours watching ill-informed players lose their shirts at the tables, was astounded to discover only 18 gambling books in print. He began writing and publishing his own books on betting basics and also revived out-of-print offerings. In 1964 he founded GBS with his wife, Edna. "He saw it as a place where gamblers could meet and talk and not feel like lepers," says Schwartz. Luckman died in 1987; Edna and Schwartz carry on his legacy.

Today mail-order and Internet sales account for two-thirds of the store's revenues of just over $1 million. But this is one business where personal service is no long shot. Some poker players, notes Schwartz, "will call us right from the table, wanting to know whether to hold or fold. I sometimes say, 'Pray.' "


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