Reading Las Vegas: 24/7

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Are you one of those travelers who likes to psych yourself up for your trip by reading books set in your destination?  I am.  Early on in my “career” as a traveler to Las Vegas, I looked specifically for books set in Las Vegas and Nevada.  In the process, I bought a book called 24/7: Living It Up and Doubling Down in the New Las Vegas by Andres Martinez. As it was published in c. 2000, I’m sure hard-core Vegas fans already know about it, but newbies might not–and you should, because it’s a fun read. Granted, a lot has changed in Vegas since 2000. The city is constantly reinventing itself, so some of the hotels mentioned in the book are gone or have changed, and new ones have sprung up in their places (RIP Desert Inn, hello Wynn Las Vegas). But the culture hasn’t changed, and this book is about the culture of Las Vegas more than any particular place.

24/7 book coverMartinez, the author, convinced a publishing company to pay him a sizable advance for his proposed book–the concept of which was that he would use $50,000 of the money to go to Las Vegas for a month to live it up as a gambler.  It was a huge risk.  Either way, he’d get a book out of the experience, but he and his wife really could have used that $50,000 for a nest egg.  By taking the money to gamble in Las Vegas, the potential was there for him to lose it all. That alone was fascinating enough to draw me in and hold my attention, but the book offers so much more than this gimmick.

Throughout the book, the reader gets an inside look into the tourist and gaming culture of Las Vegas from the point of view of someone who is living it 24/7 for a month.  As he learns about the history of Las Vegas, so do we.  Through Martinez, we’re  introduced to some fascinating characters who make Las Vegas their home, and learn the ropes of various games of chance. We follow Martinez as he stays at numerous different resorts around town, and live vicariously through his gambling exploits.

Is he a high roller?  No. There are no tales of him taking the entire $50,000 and risking it in a single hand of poker. That would be a Hollywood movie.  No, Martinez is a regular Joe, so while he gambles more money than I ever have, it’s still somewhat conservative by Vegas standards.  Still, I agonized along with him through his bankroll’s ups and downs, and much like I feared for Morgan Spurlock’s health in Supersize Me, I began to fear that Martinez might become a compulsive gambler. He certainly flirts with it a bit in the book.

What I really loved about this book about Las Vegas is Martinez’s “everyman” persona and his engaging writing style.  Not one to take himself too seriously, he has a great sense of humor (“Clergy at these Vegas wedding chapels must get the same frazzled rush as do emergency-room doctors–you can only do so much for so many and hope for the best”). He lets us inside his head to hear his thoughts, shares his insecurities about this whole crazy plan of his, and his fears that it’s all been a big mistake. This regular Joe’s life outside of his stint in Vegas seemed very relatable to me.  Since most of his trip to Las Vegas was spent solo (his wife remained back in New York, except for a brief visit), we see what it’s like for a solo traveler to spend time in Las Vegas alone.

If you want to get a sense of what draws millions of people to Las Vegas every year, if you want to take a peek into the casinos and into the lives of people who are part of the gambling culture day in and day out (not just a week or two per year), give 24/7: Living It Up and Doubling Down in Las Vegas a try.  It’s not Dostoevsky’s The Gambler (a book Martinez returns to throughout his stay in Las Vegas), but it’s the most entertaining book written about Las Vegas that I have yet come across.

Do you know of any other good books set in or about Las Vegas?  Feel free to share them in the comments section below.  I’m looking for a little good reading for my next Vegas trip!