Sands Casino Rat Pack

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Advance Praise for At the Sands

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David G. Schwartz has written a fun and engaging account of the Sands Casino which is also a fascinating review of the history of the Las Vegas Strip for the second half of the twentieth century. Using the Sands, one of the best known of the classic properties, home of the Rat Pack (not Frank Sinatra’s favorite name – read the book and you will learn why), and a great exemplar of the rise and fall of automobile-oriented casino design, Schwartz provides an accessible account of the growth of classic casinos and their changes, from a total reliance on gaming to the rise of conventions. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand Las Vegas.

Using the Sands, home of the Rat Pack (not Frank Sinatra’s favorite name–read the book and you will learn why), David G. Schwartz provides an accessible account of the growth of classic casinos and their changes, from a total reliance on gaming to the rise of conventions. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand Las Vegas.

–Mark Hall-Patton, Museums Administrator, Clark County Museum System

***

David Schwartz has done it again, singlehandedly bringing back the golden era of Las Vegas with his lively and well-researched history, At the Sands. In its pages you’ll get to know the real characters behind the rise of one of the Strip’s great carpet joints. Although it’s best known as the home of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, behind the curtain at the Sands strolled a parade of Runyonesque characters and some of the underworld’s most notorious names.

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Don’t take my word for it. Pour yourself a double, put on some Dino, and prepare to be very entertained.

— John L. Smith, author of Running Scared: The Life and Treacherous Times of Las Vegas Casino King Steve Wynn

***

To tell the story of modern Las Vegas through the lens of one Strip resort, the best option would be the Sands. And the best writer for this particular task would be gambling historian David Schwartz. At the Sands is a perfect combination of subject and storyteller. Schwartz captures it all: the mobsters behind the scenes, the legendary executives who made it a success, the rampant racism and sexism of the city’s supposedly golden era, and the implosion that ended it all. The gang’s all here, from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. to John F. Kennedy, Howard Hughes and the Copa Girls. This thoroughly researched history is a valuable addition to the growing shelf of vital books about Las Vegas.

–Geoff Schumacher, Vice President of Exhibits and Programs, Mob Museum

by David G. Schwartz
227 pp., Winchester Books, 2020
$19.95

There are several good authors currently working the casino/gaming genre, but in my view, David Schwartz is at the top of the list. He came to my attention almost 15 years ago upon publication of his Roll the Bones in 2006. It was, and is, a definitive history of gaming, beginning in Pompeii and ending at the opening of Wynn Las Vegas in late 2005. Schwartz is an academic with a Ph.D. in History from UCLA and was serving at the time as the director of the Center for Gaming Studies at UNLV. I have to confess that I initially bought that book to have it sit on my shelf and, ideally, impress my bosses. I hoped they would think that I had read this two-inch thick tome. I was pretty confident that they’d never read it themselves, nor did I have any intention of doing so either, at least not initially. Funny thing was, once I perused the first few pages, I was hooked. That book is probably now required reading in some college courses, since in true textbook fashion, it’s full of seemingly endless notations, along with 19 pages of index. But surprisingly – or maybe not so surprisingly, considering what an engaging writer Dr. Schwartz has proven to be – it’s also a great read. I knocked off all 500 pages in a few days. Ironically, over the years, I’ve used countless factoids gleaned from this book to – you guessed it – impress my bosses. Since that time, I’ve never missed any of Schwartz’s 11 other books, including the updated Casino Edition of Roll The Bones, which was published in 2013 and covers roughly five more years than the original did.

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It’s an overworked reviewers’ compliment, but so be it: I honestly couldn’t put down his latest work, At the Sands: The Casino That Shaped Classic Las Vegas. Brought the Rat Pack Together and Went Out with a Bang.

Like his other works, this book is meticulously researched. There are literally 30 pages of notes gleaned from dozens and dozens of sources, the most impressive being the extensive oral histories Schwartz surveyed.

Perhaps that’s why reading the book makes it seem like Schwartz was in the room with a tape recorder when notorious characters like “Doc” Stacher and Meyer Lansky were carving up Las Vegas. Schwartz has a way of crafting single paragraphs that function as mini-treaties on the very culture of gaming operations in the 1950s: “…a hotel guest betting a dollar on roulette or his wife putting a nickel in a slot machine was not, in their minds, a gambler; they were mere tourists, to be tolerated and even humored, but never truly respected.

And if the names of brilliant early operators at the Sands like Al Freedman, Jack Entratter and Carl Cohen don’t ring a bell with you, how about Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.? They are as tightly linked to the Sands legacy as any of the casino managers, and this book has some insights on them that are fascinating. Schwartz debunks the myths and rumors surrounding what really happened the night that Mr. Sinatra’s front teeth encountered the fist of a Sands manager – and what Frank did or didn’t do about it.

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You might also find it interesting that the Sands casino began as the French-themed LaRue (you could probably win a few bar bets with that bit of trivia, once the bars open again.) The property was also instrumental in helping guide the Las Vegas paths of both Howard Hughes and Kirk Kerkorian. And of course, Sheldon Adelson would eventually join them as one of the richest men in the world, after he blew up the place. Along the way, he built the most impressive convention center in town and completely changed how Las Vegas made its money. The details on that, too, are all in this book.

There are lots of good reasons to read this book, but it’s particularly interesting to consider its subject matter in light of the recent and incredibly timely rumblings on the Strip that Adelson may be putting a For Sale sign on the Sands once again (for non-locals, it’s known as the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Convention Center these days).

Dr. Schwartz has now been promoted to UNLV’s Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, whatever that may be. But, even without any such lofty title, he’s one of the top gaming historians working today, with a knack for making that history readable, entertaining, and over much too quickly.

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At the Sands is timely, relevant to today’s news, a great read, a thorough and thoroughly entertaining slice of Las Vegas history, and with a little luck, the stories you’ll learn will enable you, too, to impress your bosses. Trust me.

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