Literary Las Vegas: David G. Schwartz

Atlantic City native David G. Schwartz has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of California, Los Angeles, and has hands-on experience in the gaming industry. Since since 2001 Schwartz has been at UNLV, where he serves as the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research. The professor, speaker and consultant is also the author of several books on the gaming industry including his newest “Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas: How Jay Sarno Won a Casino Empire, Lost It, and Inspired Modern Las Vegas.” Sarno, the father of Caesars Palace and Circus Circus and mentor to Steve Wynn, set out to turn casinos into gambers’ paradises. “But today’s Las Vegas is uncomfortable with Sarno, despite the drama of his story and his enduring legacy,” Schwartz writes. “Why? He committed the only unpardonable sin in that corner of America: he was honest about his weaknesses. Jay Sarno pushed everything Las Vegas stands for to its farthest extremes; he shows what happens when too much of a good thing turns bad. For this, he has been cast out from the pantheon.”

For more information on Schwartz or his book, visit dgschwartz.com.

Excerpt from ‘Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas’

(Jay) Sarno exasperated (Bill) Bennett. Only a small circle of top executives were permitted to call him anything but “Mr. Bennett,” even when they were socializing together after hours. It was rumored that it had taken his wife several months to bring herself to call her husband by his first name. But Sarno would saunter into the executive offices, often wearing a bathrobe and slippers, with bonhomie for all. “Hello, Mel,” he (would) shout to Mel Larson, vice president of marketing, his voice echoing down the corridors. “How are you? Is Billy in?” Bennett would cringe, but there wasn’t much he could do. Sarno was his landlord, a man whose goodwill he still needed. Sarno treated his lessee like his personal bank: though he made a steady $100,000 a month — about $410,000 in today’s dollars — from the Circus lease, he invariably needed an advance. Bennett could afford to give Sarno the money because he had figured out how to run Circus Circus at a profit. When the new tower was finished in 1975 the room count was close to 800 — a respectable figure that let the casino begin the mass marketing that Sarno had earlier envisioned. In later years, Bennett received full credit for opening up Las Vegas to the bargain customers. Yet he acknowledged Sarno as “the greatest idea man ever to hit Las Vegas,” Bennett’s real genius was property executing Sarno’s concept.

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