Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

November 26, 2006

Roll The Bones by David Schwartz - Book Review

Posted by Hunter

Roll The Bones is a new book by Dr. David Schwartz, the director of the Center for Gambling Studies at UNLV. His blog, is a great source for gambling information and news along with the ever-popular casino carpet gallery.

Dave has written several gambling related books in the past, including Suburban Xanadu, a study of the casino resort's evolution (this book features an in-depth look at Martin Stern, Jr., who's work we have mentioned several times in the past here on this site) and Cutting The Wire, a look at the Wire Act and Internet gambling.

You can buy this book here (and it supports this site in a small way): Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling

Keep reading after the jump...

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Anyway, his latest book, Roll The Bones, is a history of gambling all the way back to an including ancient Mesopotamia. We get a look at the gambling (never 'gaming', always 'gambling' - this was before lobbyists!) habits of cultures including the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, other random Europeans and all the way through Americans. The message I was getting from this book was that gambling is a universal trait that seems to permeate every society, no matter how any of the other attributes stack up.

A book like this could easily be so boring as to guarantee a good night's sleep. That's not the case here as Schwartz is a gifted writer who is able to connect and reconcile all of the games across the centuries.

I really enjoyed Roll The Bones and I think that anyone who reads this site on a regular basis would too. If you are interested in casino gambling, this book will give you some new insight into how it all hangs together.

I recommend this book to all of our readers. If you purchase the book from the link below, we get a little credit here at the site to help keep the lights on.

Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling


Read archived comments (2 so far)
December 26, 2006 9:22 AM Posted by motoman

...and here's a review from The Motley Fool, always an amusing source for stock market info.

Sounds like a great read. I'd agree w/ Hunter and disagree with this reviewer that the density of detail makes the book more interesting, not confusing. That said, I totally agree with the reviewer that the almost exclusive focus on Western civilization is unfortunate, esp. given current interest in Macau and the long history of gambling in Asian cultures . (Don't know why the Publisher's Weekly review on claimed otherwise.)

I'd go even further and say the Fool reviewer's gentle excuse that perhaps those were the historical sources most accessible to the author is inadequate, and reflects the Western Eurocentric model we're taught in our schools. Regrettable for its omissions and the missed opportunity to acknowledge and understand various cultures' influences upon one another. (I mean our schools, not the book. But perhaps this leaves room for a Second Edition? That'd be cool.)

I'm still gonna get the book, it looks fascinating. (From the link on this site, of course!)

December 26, 2006 2:35 PM Posted by Dave

Motoman, I'm glad you're going to get the book (and I'll sign it for you if you bring it to Vegas). I'd like to talk about your concerns about the book's "omissions," which I think the review overstated.

Writing the book, I drew primarily on English-language sources, though I also used some French, German, and Chinese sources that I used in translation. The book is a history of gambling with an emphasis on the games that are known internationally: the games that are played in casinos worldwide. In doing so, I considered gaming culture in each of the continents. I consciously made this a book that wasn't Eurocentric, drawing on history, anthropology, and sociology to illuminate gambling in several global cultures.

As you read, you'll see that Asian gaming is more than just Macau, although there is a great history of gambling there that I've included(about 12 pages total out of a 500-page text, more than Reno, though less than Las Vegas). In fact, I wrote part of the Macau section while I was in Macau, doing research first-hand. And there's much more. How about the old casino favorite keno? It's actually based on the Chinese "White Pigeon Ticket lottery," a game that spread in the late 19th century from China to Chinatowns around the world, and known as the "Chinese lottery" until...well, I'll leave it to you to read the origins of keno in a Reno casino on page 358.

I also consciously talk about the kind of cultural interplay you mention: that's the story of playing cards in a nutshell, with the British playing games the French invented for an Italian deck of cards based on an Islamic variation of a Chinese playing medium.

This is the first and only attempt so far in the English language that I or my editors know of to bring in the entire history of gambling under one roof. Since it's geared for an American market, there's more about the games Americans are interested in than the others, and more about American gamblers: that's just the consequence of squeezing as much as possible into 500 pages. But the others cultures are very much there, in more detail than in any other single book you'll find.

That's the end of my pitch. I hope you enjoy the book, and I think that you'll find that, from the Olmec ball games to Chinese fan tan, it's a truly inclusive book that sheds light on gambling worldwide across cultural, gender, and class divisions.