John Luckman

Updated September 12, 1999 - 1:00 am

In one corner of the Gambler’s Book Club an old couple in straw hats and fanny packs scan a large array of volumes on winning at video poker. A couple of sweaty fat guys festooned in gold neck chains are engaged in animated debate over horse betting. An intense-looking young man with thick glasses pores over a thick book on higher mathematics in gambling. A video on a wall-mounted television set blares step-by-step instructions on pai gow poker.

It’s lively out front, more so in back, where telephone and mail orders are being sent out as fast as they are placed. The Gamblers Book Club is far and away the world’s largest supplier of books on gaming, magic, the mob and Las Vegas in general. It is a unique enterprise, conceived by a unique man.

He was John Luckman, co-proprietor with his wife, Edna, of the Gambler’s Book Club. He also was an author and publisher, literally the creator of a whole new genre of instructional literature, nearly all of it aimed at creating better-informed players.

Edna Luckman is now in her 35th year as the company’s bookkeeper. She, along with store managers Howard Schwartz and Peter Ruchman, are today the fierce guardians of Luckman’s legacy.

The Gambler’s Book Shop at 630 S. 11th St., the club’s retail outlet and headquarters, is as much a school as a store. The person behind the counter will probably be a seasoned dealer or player, freely dispensing advice and words of caution.

“We’re kind of like Consumer Reports for gamblers,” says Ruchman, a blackjack player who came to Las Vegas in the 1960s. The Gambler’s Book Club banks on its reputation for honesty and integrity, a reputation built by the founders.

“John and Edna were both straight as arrows,” says Ruchman. “When they went into a casino to eat, they would go through the back door, so no one would notice them and hit them with a comp. After they were done eating, and paying for their own meals, they would go out into the casino, say hello to everyone and play. They did not want to be compromised or beholden to anyone. Look at any of our literature for 35 years, there’s not a single advertisement for any product.”

John Lester Luckman was born in Oak Park, Ill., Sept. 24, 1928. He served in the Marine Corps during World War II but saw no action. Discharge found him in Santa Monica, Calif., working as a pinsetter in a bowling alley. It was there that he met a lady accountant named Edna. They were married in 1946, and had no children.

The bowling alley was a daily stop for a local bookie, and Luckman would occasionally lay a bet.

“But after awhile,” his widow recalls, “he realized it was the bookmaker who had the big bankroll. So he went to work for him.”

The couple owned a carpet store for a time, and also made periodic pleasure trips to Las Vegas. In 1955, a police crackdown on bookmaking prompted the Luckmans to move to Las Vegas permanently.

Luckman wanted to work in the casino industry, and was willing to start at the bottom. He graduated from a storefront “dealer’s school,” and was eventually hired by the Pioneer Club. He also worked at the Mint, Caesars Palace and the Tropicana. A voracious reader, Luckman tried to climb the ladder of success through self-education, and was amazed to discover that there were a grand total of 18 gambling books in print. So he began to seek out and collect used copies of out-of-print books.

Edna Luckman remembers that people were always borrowing from her husband’s one-of-a-kind collection, and he began to suspect that there was an unfulfilled need for more and better information on gaming.

His observations of players’ habits convinced him.

“He could see that people had no idea what they were doing,” says Edna. “They didn’t even get a run for their money.” And players had no monopoly on gambling ignorance, he decided.

“John believed that many of the people in casino management don’t understand the games they’re in charge of,” says Schwartz. “He used to call them ‘lumpies’ as in lumps. They were juiced in; someone’s relative or friend.”

By 1964 the Luckmans were convinced that there was indeed a market for gambling texts, and the Gambler’s Book Club was born. The name was significant, says Schwartz, because Luckman envisioned not just a bookstore, but a library of gaming, and a forum for gamblers to gather and visit, argue, gossip, lie and, most of all, learn from each other.

Luckman’s first priority was crafting primers for greenhorn gamblers.

Under the pen name Walter I. Nolan (WIN), he wrote a series of little paperback books that explained the basics of a particular game, such as “The Facts of Blackjack,” and “The Facts of Craps.”

The Luckmans produced the books at home. A neighbor, an official in the Mormon Church, had a broken reproduction machine that Luckman repaired in exchange for its use. The books were sold by mail order and in casino gift shops. Some bosses grumbled about wising up the suckers, but sales of the 50-cent books soared, and they remain among the most popular titles Luckman ever published.

“At the very height of their popularity,” says Schwartz, “the `Facts of …’ series was selling 1,500 to 5,000 copies a month.”

In 1968, John and Edna resigned from their jobs at the Tropicana and Pioneer Club, respectively, and went into the book business full time. Their first store was at the corner of Charleston Boulevard and Main Street. A vacant wholesale grocery building, a block off east Charleston, later became the current headquarters.

The lack of titles with which to stock the store and the catalog was a problem, one that Luckman solved by expanding the publishing business. The copyrights had long expired on most of the old books Luckman had collected, so anyone had the right to reprint them. Luckman pounced on them, running off a few hundred at a time.

“He resuscitated a lot of old classics,” says Schwartz. The first was a reprint of the 1908 “Racing Maxims & Methods of Pittsburgh Phil,” which was based on the only interview ever given by the legendary horse-player. Another was “The Stealing Machine,” written in 1906 by French detective Eugene Villiod. It explains complex cheating and bunko schemes, some still in use today.

He also published the debut books of David Sklansky, “Winning Poker” and “Hold ‘Em Poker,” still among the hottest titles in the store. Frank Scoblete and John Patrick published their own first books, but the Luckmans introduced them to the public; all three are now successful gaming authors.

Ed Silberstang was already one of the country’s best-established gambling authors, with his classic “Playboy’s Book of Games.” But Luckman published some of Silberstang’s works on uncommon games, which had audiences too small for major publishers. They became fast friends. “He ran a bookstore for writers and he had respect for writers,” said Silberstang. “I met a lot of other writers through him. If he knew two people who had something in common, he would find a way to introduce you.”

Luckman realized very early that many real gaming wizards had no literary inclination. If he wanted their expertise reduced to print, he would have to be an editor, too.

“Many of our best books were spoken directly into a tape recorder, then transcribed and edited,” says Schwartz. Some very advanced books, involving higher mathematics, were penned anonymously by high-minded college professors who were closet gamblers.

In 1979, Luckman hired Schwartz, a journalist, to edit the store’s two magazines, “Casino and Sports,” and “Systems and Methods.” The latter was concerned with pari-mutuel betting on horses or dogs. Naturally, all new gambling books were reviewed.

“Half of the magazine was devoted to analyzing gambling systems,” says Schwartz. He explains that these “systems,” touted as being the pathway to riches, are usually some sort of scam or a rehash of common knowledge, with a hefty price tag attached.

Luckman took particular pleasure in exposing bad books and systems, and endorsing those that were sound. He saw no reason why his favorite form of recreation should be associated with flimflammery.

“John tried to convince everybody that gambling was adult recreation,” says Edna Luckman. “You’re not going to retire on it. Just know what you’re doing and have some fun.”

In the mid-1980s, Luckman’s health began to fail. Magazine and book publishing ceased in order for the staff to concentrate on its lifeblood publication, the mail-order catalogue.

In early November 1987, Luckman died of a heart attack brought on by kidney failure. Schwartz and later, Ruchman, became what they describe as “the keepers” of his legacy.

“Our business used to about 70 percent walk-in, and 30 percent mail order,” says Schwartz. “Now, it’s almost reversed.” One reason, he says, is the proliferation of legalized gambling overseas, especially in Australia and the Pacific Rim. Foreign orders now account for about 20 percent of the mail-order trade.

Schwartz and Ruchman seem to have preserved the sterling reputation Luckman nurtured — that is, if the caliber of the store’s patrons are any indicator.

“Douglas Dunlap, FBI Special Agent, just called last Tuesday, and had me Federal Express him 1,000 catalogs,” says Ruchman. “He needed them to re-supply his field agents.”

Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local astronomers host super blood wolf moon viewing
The Las Vegas Astronomical Society paired with the College of Southern Nevada to host a lunar eclipse viewing Sunday night. Known as the super blood wolf moon, the astronomical event won't occur for another 18 years. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye
First former felon to work for Nevada Department of Corrections
After his father died, Michael Russell struggled for years with drug addiction. When he finally decided to change for good, he got sober and worked for years to help others. Now he is the first former felon to be hired by the Nevada Department of Corrections. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like