From the Publisher
"A colorful glimpse of the sometimes sordid, sometimes spectacular capital of capital risk."
"A whiz-bang book...call it pop sociology, gonzo journalism, or social criticism: It's all good fun...[Martinez] is a sharp and witty observer...he has a delicious sense of irony."
"A quality package tour through [the] new Las Vegas...Martinez is a thorough reporter and a wittily personable cicerone."
The Boston Globe
"EntertainingA funny and perceptive account."
The New York Book Review
Adding to a recent spate of books on the new, corporatized, family-friendly Las Vegas, former Wall Street Journal reporter Andrés Martinez's 24/7 boasts an irresistible hook: Withdrawing his entire $50,000 publishing advance from the bank, Martinez spent a full month on the Strip, boldly sampling the high-stakes tables at every big-name casino in the city. Betting at a rate as high as $18,000 per hour on blackjack, roulette, baccarat, and war--yes, the inane kids' game in which the highest card wins--he offers the vicarious thrill of watching a normally sane, level-headed guy lead a double life as a freewheeling high roller. With a premise like this one in place, you'd expect either a cynic's jaded perspective on Sin City vulgarity or the swift descent of a newly addicted gambler, but Martinez proves a cheerful, open-minded tour guide.
Bookended by a stay at the Egyptian-themed Luxor (which features a pyramid atrium large enough to hold nine stacked 747s) and the opening weekend of the $1.6 billion Bellagio, 24/7 broadens its scope beyond the casinos to cover the fringes of America's fastest-growing major city. Martinez is particularly interested in long-time residents who witnessed Vegas' awkward transition from mob control to an insidiously glossy Disneyland at the mercy of Wall Street stockholders. For "Peggy," an old-time "classy dame" who spent the weekends of her youth on the arms of monied businessmen, and Dick Carson, a self-described family man who made his millions as a book, the lesson is always the same: In Vegas, everyone eventually loses. After a hot streak that brings his "nest egg" (a wry allusion to Albert Brooks' Lost In America) to dizzying heights, Martinez learns first-hand the compulsive, irrational panic that grips the suddenly unlucky. By the end, his tidy metaphor of the city as "a mirror... reflecting our basest urges" twists to amusing funhouse distortions.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Here's the concept: ex-lawyer and ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Martinez visits some 10 casino hotels in five frantic weeks, jeopardizing $50,000--most of his book advance--at blackjack, baccarat, roulette and the slots. His overstuffed journal sandwiches brief glimpses of the changing city--via such characters as a local historian and a minister/bathroom attendant at a topless bar--within a lengthy blow-by-blow account of his time at the tables. Some engaging passages do capture local lunacy--Martinez's betting pace quickly gets him comped, and he shepherds a Gamblers Anonymous member cashing her paycheck at a casino so that she will leave the premises without gambling her money away. And Martinez displays a sly wit, observing, for example, that future archeologists will conclude that "Las Vegas was an important religious center." However, though he ends each section with a report on his ever-fluctuating "nest egg," and inserting reflections on Dostoyevski's The Gambler, Martinez doesn't elevate his notebook into narrative. He recounts the antic thrill of dropping $450 in new winnings on a gift for his wife, but never reveals enough to convey what risking his stake means to him. Indeed, though the author, returning to Vegas after his initial stint, ends up losing big, he concludes his book with a happy shrug, having "felt the exhilaration of truly letting go." His whimsicality makes one wonder about the source of his immunity toward ill fortune. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Las Vegas, the fastest-growing city in the US, as seen by a skepticaland often funnyjournalist. Martinez, a native of Mexico who has worked as a lawyer and Wall Street Journal reporter, operates from a goofy plot angle that would chill most freelance writers: He committed the whole of his $50,000 advance for this book to researchthat is, to gambling. His sensible wife protests at the outset, "Why don't you just write your book about Vegas, but keep the advance?" However, Martinez, evidently working from the George Plimpton journalist-as-participant school, presses on, and each chapter closes with a tally of his occasional wins yet usual losses until, four weeks later, his advance has been whittled down to $5,120. Martinez, obviously, could have kept the money and written a whiz-bang book; he's a sharp and witty observer of the passing scene, he has done his homework, and he has a delicious sense of irony, all of which serve his narrative well. Still, the hundreds of hours he logged before the green felt of the gambling tables give him an unusual peg on which to hang his story, which is one of dislocation and weirdness, populated by losers, con artists, and, even more, ordinary folks just looking to get a break. Although they never do, of course, they keep trying in the face of staggering odds. So does Martinez, who finally closes with an admission of defeat after having entertained the delusion he might just make it out with his grubstake intact: "The war was over. Any chance of amassing unspeakable riches off this clever boondoggle was now foreclosed, and the finality of that realization was overwhelming." Call it pop sociology, gonzo journalism, or socialcriticism: It's all good fun.
Read an Excerpt
Walking into the Desert Inn Sheraton, which recently underwent a $200 million renovation, was a soothing experience. The seven-story vaulted lobby was all marble; the casino was nowhere in sight, and the hotel's only theme seemed to be "elegant Mediterranean resort." I think even my Vegas-loathing mother-in-law would like this place. The DI would qualify as a large hotel in most cities, but after the Luxor, which has six times as many rooms, it had the intimate feel of a boutique hotel.
My plush room in the main tower had a view of the pool and golf course. It didn't take long to realize this would be a tough stay, involving tough choices. I had two sinks and three phones at my command. The toiletries, I noticed, were stamped with one of those royal seals that indicate they had been concocted "by appointment" to some majesty, a cool concept I've always fallen for if never quite understood. I made a mental note to swipe them daily for Kat. After all, the room was setting me back $285 a night.
I picked up one of the three phones and called Citibank's toll-free number to report the loss of my credit card (something else I'd accomplished at Luxor). I felt sheepish asking to have a new card sent to me at a Las Vegas hotel, of all places. But instead of forwarding my call to the fraud department, the voice on the other end told me she, too, was in Las Vegas.
Citibank is one of Las Vegas's prized trophies in the uphill battle to diversify the local economy. To lure one of the New York giant's credit card processing centers, which now employs 1,700 people here, Nevada's legislature in 1984 passed a law allowing out-of-state banks to establish a Nevada subsidiary. And because Citibank felt queasy about the notoriety of its new addresswould customers appreciate sending their hard-earned money off to what comedians have long called the city of Lost Wages?the bank was allowed to call its parcel of land The Lakes, Nevada. I wonder if this geographic subterfuge would have been deemed necessary nowadays, Las Vegas having come such a long way in the past dozen years.
Citibank is not alone. Williams Sonoma and other companies also find Las Vegas an ideal location for call centers, and not just because of the low cost of living and welcoming tax climate. What makes this city ideal for an around-the-clock operation is its 24/7 casino-inspired culture. Residents don't think twice about being asked to work night shifts. Go off the Strip and ask a bartender, a grocery store manager, or a fitness club attendant what time their business closes, and they will look offended. "We're here twenty-four-seven," they'll respondas in twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I find this all deeply appealing. I have never shopped for groceries at three in the morning, lifted weights at four, or driven to a friendly neighborhood bar at five, I must confess, but I'd find it comforting to know I could, if I wanted. Even when I was a child, those "Always Open" signs at Denny's invariably made me smile.
This 24/7 world has its own alluring language. People work either daytime, "swing," or "graveyard" shifts. At most casinos, daytime means noon to eight, swing is eight to four, and graveyard is four to noon. The swing shift is a casino's busiest, and the nightly migration of dealers and cocktail waitresses from the Strip back home (or to the neighborhood tavern or health club) makes Las Vegas's roads some of the most congested anywhere at four in the morning.