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Super Casino: Inside the New Las Vegas

Super Casino: Inside the New Las Vegas

4.4 23
by Pete Earley

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In this lively and probing book, award-winning author Pete Earley traces the extraordinary evolution of Las Vegas -- from the gaudy Mecca of the Rat Pack era to one of the country's top family vacation spots. He revisits the city's checkered history of moguls, mobsters, and entertainers, reveals the real stories of well-known power brokers like Steve Wynn and legends


In this lively and probing book, award-winning author Pete Earley traces the extraordinary evolution of Las Vegas -- from the gaudy Mecca of the Rat Pack era to one of the country's top family vacation spots. He revisits the city's checkered history of moguls, mobsters, and entertainers, reveals the real stories of well-known power brokers like Steve Wynn and legends like Howard Hughes and Bugsy Siegel, and offers a fascinating portrait of the life, death, and fantastic rebirth of the Las Vegas Strip.

Earley also documents the gripping tale of the entrepreneurs behind the rise and fall and rise again of one of the largest gaming corporations in the nation, Circus Circus -- to which he was given unique access. In his trademark you-are-there style, he takes us behind the scenes to meet the blackjack dealers and hookers, the heavy hitters and bit players, the security officers, cabbies, and showgirls who are caught up in the mercurial pace that pulses at the heart of this astounding city.

From the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For a portrait of razzle-dazzle Las Vegas, this is a curiously sober book. Earley, an Edgar and Robert F. Kennedy Award winner (Circumstantial Evidence), gained the cooperation of Circus Circus Enterprises, owners of the new pyramid-shaped Luxor super casino, to write an awkward hybrid of a work: part business history, part vignettes of life in Las Vegas. The first segment, more than one third of the book, tells the history of Circus Circus. It's a solid account of the rise of corporate casinos by Earley, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, but as Vegas tales go, there's nothing hugely dramatic in the Circus Circus story. The book's sprightlier but diffuse second part describes episodes inside the Luxor and the individual characters who populate it: a casino boss, a showgirl, a security guard, etc. Earley showcases some unflattering scenes, such as a security guard's beating of a homeless man, and picks up some only-in-Vegas anecdotes, like the many ways casino dealers have tried to hide stolen chips (e.g., in a brassiere). But only one of these characters is compelling: a young prostitute who opens up to the author to a remarkable degree; surviving the Las Vegas jungle, she trains as a blackjack dealer and ultimately leaves town. Earley does not comment directly on the broader moral issues of gambling: halfway through the book, he quotes a cabbie who says the city is based on greed, but near the end, he cites a Luxor manager who asserts that it's a place "where people come to forget their problems." Andres Martinez's 24/7 (Forecasts, Oct. 25) goes further in conveying the manic energy of Las Vegas, but the city still awaits a stylish chronicler who can fully capture its uniqueness. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Earley, who previously took readers inside a major prison (The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth) and a spy ring (Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring), now takes us inside Las Vegas in this well-written, behind-the-scenes look at the machinations of the corporate world of gambling. In an unprecedented move, executives from Circus Circus Enterprises gave Earley (a former Washington Post reporter) carte blanche to attend any and all meetings, to interview staff without fear of reprisal, and to observe life inside the Luxor and Circus Circus casinos. He introduces readers not only to Vegas executives but to dealers, floor managers, and security personnel. We follow a teenage hooker from her arrival in Las Vegas to her exit two years later; we meet a dancer following her dreams; we witness the firing of an employee. By the end, you'll wonder if anyone has a chance to come out ahead against the corporate mafia who have renewed Las Vegas with the Super Casinos that line the Strip. An excellent read, this book is fast-paced, interesting, and credible. Recommended for public libraries of all sizes and for academic libraries, too.--Sandra Isaacson, Las Vegas Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Truly the best book ever written about Las Vegas, and I think I've read them all."
— Nelson DeMille

"Revealing and poignant ... with Studs Terkel-style personal narratives. A timely and deft examination."
— Kirkus Reviews

"A fascinating, highly readable mix. [Earley's] book will probably be the closest anyone comes to getting Vegas right."
— American Way magazine

"A portrait of razzle-dazzle Las Vegas ... part business history, part vignettes of life."
— Publishers Weekly

"An intoxicating scrapbook of tales and images ... for anyone who has ever wondered what's behind the glittering lights, marveled at the opulence or been repulsed by the underbelly of 'sin city.'"
— Copley News Service

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

Food and beverage director John Thacker found a wad of messages waiting for him after the department-head meeting. He still had thirty telephone calls to return from Monday. Like other managers, he no longer had an assistant to field them because of Alamo's budget cuts. His department served a minimum of nine thousand meals every day and he oversaw a staff of 1,100, which included 25 chefs, 290 cooks, and several hundred busboys, cocktail waitresses, bartenders, and food servers. He personally signed $1.8 million worth of purchase orders per month. Because the Luxor was not generating the profits its executives expected, Thacker had been told to reduce his payroll even more by firing the equivalent of 55 full-time employees. He didn't know how he was going to do that without sacrificing service.

"Everyone always complains about food," he said. "It's always too hot, too cold; there's not enough, there's too much; it's too salty, it's too sweet; it's too cheap, it's too expensive. But the truth is that the actual preparation of food is easy. The hard part of my job is dealing with employees and the customers. It's how you deal with people in this business that ultimately makes or breaks you."

Thacker had first learned this lesson in 1969, when he was in high school and one of his pals offered to help him get a "juice job" as a busboy at the Regency Room in the glamorous Sands resort. No one worked there unless they knew someone, and Thacker's buddy was related to the maître d'hôtel. Thacker went in for an interview before the restaurant opened. "Carry that tray of dirty glasses around the room," the maître d'hôtel ordered, pointing to a heavy tray filled with glasses. Thacker did as he was told and when he got back, was told to do it again. Other employees chuckled as Thacker lugged the tray. This time, he noticed that the maîre d'hôtel was not even watching him. But he told Thacker to do it again, sparking more laughter. Thacker carried the tray around the room a third time, and then a fourth, and finally a fifth. "I later learned this was a test to see if I would follow directions without questioning him, even if it meant that I would be humiliated. He knew that some customers wouldn't think twice about embarrassing me, and you had to be willing to smile and do what you were told without insulting these people even if they were jerks."

Thacker got the job and soon discovered there was a payoff for treating customers as if they were always right: "If I was nice to people, they gave me money." Thacker memorized the name of every high roller so he could greet them when he cleared their table. He learned the habits of every waiter and figured out ways to help them do their jobs. The tips flowed downhill from the waiters, who were receiving as much as $300 to $400 per night. Thacker gave his paycheck to his mother, who was divorced and working as a waitress at a club, but kept the tips for himself. "I went home at night with my pockets stuffed with bills."

At the Luxor, Thacker oversaw the Isis, the pyramid's gourmet restaurant; a seafood restaurant, the Sacred Sea Room; and a Polynesian dining room called Papyrus. None of them was doing well. Thacker received daily reports and the most recent showed the three restaurants had served only four hundred meals. That was about one-fifth of what it should have been. There were also two cafes in the Luxor, the Pyramid Café and the Millennium, and they had served 4,512 meals, which was good but not great. The busiest dining hall was the all-you-can-eat buffet, where 6,221 customers had eaten.

Tony Alamo was in the process of changing the restaurants. He was adding a pricey steak house next to the casino and converting the Papyrus into a Chinese restaurant. He was also building a fast-food court on the amusement level near an expanded video arcade popular with kids. The court featured McDonald's hamburgers, Little Caesar's Pizza, and Nathan's hot dogs. A new buffet, called Pharaoh's Pheast, was being constructed in the basement level and even though it wasn't open yet, Thacker already had instructed his cooks how he wanted the food arranged. Soups, salads, and fruits would be placed at the start of the serving line. Next would come various pastas and Chinese and Mexican dishes. Farther down, there would be omelettes and exotic breads. Only when a diner reached the end would he find prime rib and chicken dishes. "You always put your least expensive items in the front of a serving line," Thacker explained, "because you want your customers to fill up on those items first before they reach the more expensive meats." Vacationing tourists who made pigs of themselves were called "trough monsters" by the buffet workers, who often wondered aloud how it was possible to eat so much at one sitting.

Thacker relied on his three shift managers to handle the everyday problems. Each left him messages in a bound log kept on his secretary's desk. The notes revealed much about the daily workings of a casino food and beverage operation. On this particular day, there were a number of notations:

Employee tossed out the top of a wedding cake for couple having reception. They were furious so we arranged for them to have a free room for night.

Guest complained that the price for a drink on the menu was 95ó but it rang up at $1 on cash register. Someone had recorded it wrong in the machine.

No fish on the all-you-can-eat buffet line last Friday night. Roman Catholic guests complained today.

Couple got into fight in restaurant and left without paying. Caught by security. Have a history of skipping out without paying for meals.

Elderly man seen taking carrots from buffet and putting them into plastic bag to take home. Poor Las Vegas resident. Warned not to take food from buffet.

Had to suspend busboy for possible theft of tips from food servers. Found $9 worth in his apron that had been left for someone else.

Guest complained because room service wouldn't let her nanny sign for meal.

Guest returned six-pack of beer, said it was warm by the time it reached his room.

Waitress dropped glass, didn't tell anyone, shards fell into strawberries and guest cut lip. Waitress disciplined, guest given complimentary meal.

Guest complained about seeing cook blow nose in napkin and then continue serving food on buffet line without washing hands.

Suggestion: we need to have signs in kitchen printed in Spanish as well as English.

Waitress showed up without bra, told to go home and get one.

Shortly before seven o'clock, Thacker got a call from Tony Alamo, who said Michael Ensign was joining him in the Isis in a half hour for dinner. As soon as Alamo hung up, Thacker called the head waiter. "Make sure Mr. Alamo and Mr. Ensign are seated in a booth away from other guests," he said. "The last time Mr. Ensign ate in our restaurant, some woman complained for ten minutes about her meal when she found out who he was. Oh yeah, and for god sakes don't let Jimmy serve them." Thacker was planning on firing Jimmy later that night for hustling tips.

He explained that the casino often sent high rollers to the Isis for complimentary meals and these gamblers frequently ordered the most expensive items on the menu because they knew they were not being charged. Because of this, the Luxor did not list its costliest bottles of wine and champagne on its wine list. Jimmy had been telling gamblers about them and one high roller recently had run up a free dinner that had cost $1,200 because he kept ordering $120 bottles of champagne The gambler had slipped Jimmy a fat tip. Jimmy had been warned twice to stop hustling tips but was still doing it.

After talking to the maître d'hôtel, Thacker telephoned the Luxor's head chef and told him about Alamo and Ensign. "You have some nice stone crabs, don't you?" he asked. "Those would be good to serve tonight, but make sure they're perfect."

Everything was running smoothly until ten minutes before Alamo and Ensign were scheduled to arrive. A sewage pipe backed up in the basement and wastewater began spilling into the Luxor's main kitchen. As Thacker rushed downstairs, he used his portable phone to call the Luxor's in-house health inspector. The inspector had worked for the Food and Drug Administration before Thacker hired him to ensure that the Luxor's kitchens exceeded every city, county, state, and national health standard. As far as Thacker knew, the Luxor was the only resort in Las Vegas that had its own internal health inspector, but Thacker thought the cost was well worth it. The inspector had instituted a number of commonsense safety rules--such as using different-colored cutting boards to make certain that salmonella was not spread by having meat cut on a board where raw chicken already had been sliced. "A lot of Strip hotels have sent two or three hundred people to the hospital with food poisoning," Thacker said. "I want to make sure that never happens here."

The kitchen was a mess when he reached it. Chefs and cooks were wading through a half inch of dirty water as they prepared meals. Thacker called the engineering department and asked where the water was coming from. Something had been jammed into a main wastewater pipe, he was told. Vacuum cleaners were brought in to suck up the water, but they couldn't keep up. By now the water was nearly an inch deep and threatening to splash over the bottom doors of the main cooler where all of the Luxor's ice for drinks was stored. Thacker grabbed a mop and ordered several busboys to help him. "If we can't stop it," the inspector warned, "we'll have to close the kitchen."

Thacker's phone rang. Alamo and Ensign had just been seated at their table upstairs in the Isis. "Oh, Christ!" he said. The two executives had no idea of the bedlam in the kitchen. "They just ordered the stone crabs," the chef called out as he sloshed through the water. Thacker's black dress shoes were soaked. Suddenly the water stopped rising. The chief engineer's men had managed to clear the pipe; someone had stuffed rags into it. An anonymous caller had just phoned security to take credit for the vandalism. Security chief Andy Vanyo figured it was another disgruntled construction worker who had been laid off. Even though Thacker and the busboys had kept the dirty water from reaching the main ice cooler, the inspector ordered that all the ice inside it be destroyed and the entire kitchen floor dried, mopped, and chemically sanitized. Thacker thought it was overkill, but he kept quiet. Hurrying upstairs on a service elevator, he grabbed a towel and wiped off his shoes. Moments later, he strolled across the dining room in the Isis and asked Alamo and Ensign if their meal was satisfactory.

"It's delicious," said Alamo. "Tell the chef that he did a fabulous job."

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Formerly a reporter for The Washington Post, Pete Earley is also the author of the highly praised Bantam titles Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring; and Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town, winner of the Edgar Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

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Super Casino 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Seldom has so much writing talent been so misdirected in a project as occurred with this book. Mr. Earley sought out every seamy angle he could about Las Vegas, past and present, and the people profiled in the book. With such a negative slant, Mr. Earley could have made a family theme park seem like Sodom and Gomorrah. He also does not understand the national evolution of gambling, and misrepresents what has been happening in Las Vegas. The best part of the book is in its opening chapter, where Mr. Earley does a superb job of explaining how casino staffs play cat and mouse with customers trying to get an edge playing Blackjack by changing their bets when the odds shift in their favor. That chapter set a high expectation for me. It was all quickly downhill from there. The background of the 'old' Las Vegas was much too long and detailed, and added little that is not carried in newspaper and magazine reports about Las Vegas. In both the 'old' and the 'new' sections, he tried to work in every negative angle he could about people. You will get to read about crimes related to illegal gambling, theft, rape, kidnapping, fraud, prostitution, assault and battery, and murder. I have read many books about hardened criminals that did not have as much crime in them as this one. In case this isn't enough of a downer, he wants to make sure that you see other seamy parts of human nature. If anyone has a bad habit, it's explored in here. You get lots of people losing their tempers with each other, making false claims about each other, being greedy, showing inconsiderateness, and having worked for organized criminals in the past. You also get nice normal Moms taking their clothes off to create a sensation at the pool, wives seducing dealers, and dancers being groped in Japan (I know that seems like its a long way from Las Vegas, but some Japanese people have been known to visit Las Vegas -- that seems to be the connection). The description of the development of Las Vegas is focused much too much on two companies, Mandalay Bay (formerly Circus Circus) and Mirage (no longer independent). Even here, the story is too narrowly drawn between getting high rollers from overseas versus low-income slot players from Southern California. Las Vegas is turning into an adult version of Epcot Center, a mini World's Fair with spectacular sights all in one place. In addition, some casinos are creating destination resorts that are appropriate for the whole family (Excalibur, MGM Grand, and Mandalay Bay all have this character, in part). At the same time, gambling isn't paying off for investors in the way that it used to. The book makes you vaguely aware of that, but doesn't come to grips with why it's happening and what it means. The book is very critical of the house 'win' in the Las Vegas casinos, but the odds there are much better than in any state lottery, illegal gambling activity, and also in many Native American-owned casinos across the country. Mr. Earley is too intelligent to be this off-target. There seems to be a hidden agenda here, but I'm not sure I can describe it for you. By contrast, let me desribe my last trip to Las Vegas. I was able to get a very inexpensive room. While there, I saw a great art exhibition at Bellagio that compared favorably with what can usually only be seen in major city museums. I ate a terrific, inexpensive lunch at Rio. I saw several free shows, including ones outside at the Mirage (with a volcano erupting) and Treasure Island. I toured five casinos I had never seen before, and was fascinated by the designs and the stores. I never gambled a nickel. After finishing the visit, I realized that I had spent less money and seen more than would have occurred if I had been at a theme park in Florida or California for the same amount of time. And I had a very good time. Unless you like to take a jaundiced view of everything, avoid this book. My own suggestion is that you visit Las Vegas
B-loNY More than 1 year ago
Everything you wanted to know about(or didn't want to know) about Las Vegas.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A lotus flower theyre really good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shoots the buliding again
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Yawns again
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Comes in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this as we just came back from Vegas after our first ever visit. It was interesting to be able to get an understanding of how the different properties were built up along the strip and the personalities behind the scenes who built & ran the Vegas properties. I'm currently reading Forgetten Man which is the biography of Bill Bennett who built up the Circus Circus chain from one hotel to the dozen now (since acquired by MGM). Another good read for those interested in Vegas history.
beecee More than 1 year ago
Yes, it is about Las Vegas and the Super Casinos, but the majority of the book, once it got past the fairly boring beginning, was about how Circus Circus got its start and a lot about the Luxor. I think the title should have reflected that it was more about Circus Circus Enterprises/Mandalay Bay Group (now MGM Resorts) than any of the other super casinos. When I first started to read it, while I found the history on how Las Vegas got started, it was dry as dust and it took me awhile to read enough to get to where it got interesting (aka Mafia involvement) but once it got to more modern times (albeit late 1990s), it got more interesting.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book written about Las Vegas. it includes the early history, all the major players in the development of the city and a real inside look into the mystery and wonderment of the casino business. You will never see Las Vegas the same after reading this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book hoping to learn more about the history of Las Vegas. From the days of the mob to the new mega-resorts. I learned a lot of interesting historical facts. Some I knew briefly and some were totally new. One thing I really enjoyed about this book was how the business aspect of it was tied in with everything. As a business major in college, everything I have learned in class, I can relate it to this book. Customer service, management, competition, financial risk, etc. Not only did I learn more about the greatest city in the world, I also was able to apply things that I learned in class to this book. Thanks for writing such an easy to read and easy to follow book. I couldnt put it down. I read it in 2 days.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well researched and well written history of this city's past and present. Covers everyone from Mormon settlers to the mobsters, modern casino magnates, prostitutes and people who punch the timeclocks in the casinos and go to little league and pay on their mortgages. Buy this book for your flight out there. You will not be bored!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Super Casino is the book to read to find the 'real' Las Vegas, the power struggles, the individuals who have 'paid the price' to make LV what it is today, the entertainment capital of America. Teaches us how the people of Vegas, from the power brokers to prostitutes, survive in the tinsel jungle.This book will hold your attention and fascination.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always hate it when people write five paragph reviews. No one is ever going to bother reading all of that.