The VT Interview With David G. Schwartz, UNLV Gaming Historian
Cutting the Wire and Rolling Bones in Suburban Xanadu
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery..."
"That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise."
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"Kubla Khan : A Vision In A Dream"
Author, Historian, Mountain Climber and Ping-Pong Champion David G. Schwartz has one of the more enviable jobs that a Vegas nut could desire. No not slot matron. Not blackjack dealer. Not even towel boy in the dressing room at Folies Bergere. You can cross casino impresario and magnate off the list as well. He's a historian, big cheese of the Gaming Studies Department at UNLV. Studying Vegas and the global gaming phenomenon is his job... he gets paid to write papers, publish books, research the origins of dice, cards and the games thereto attached. He also gets to wander about taking photos of casino carpeting and sit in his air conditioned office and ponder "what the fuck is this all about." Anyone who has read David's phenominal book Suburban Xanadu: The Casino Resort on the Las Vegas Strip 1945-1978 knows that he means business... he looks at all sides of the Vegas Strip story - good, bad and buried in a hole in the desert. Is "Suburban Xanadu" a glossy coffee table book with photos of Sinatra dealing Baccarat? Stories of the numbered days of the historic Moulin Rouge? Bad beat tales of gambler woes sandwiched between a collage of "bought off eBay" historic postcards and memorabilia? Nope... not even close. Suburban Xanadu is a true to the rolling bone dissertation on the history and evolution of the Las Vegas experience from its first ramshackle abodes out on Highway 91 to the pre-dawn of the casino megaresort as we know it today. I personally guarantee that you will never look at Las Vegas the same way again after reading "Suburban Xanadu" and that, my compadres in Vegasdom, is a damn good thing.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very very proud to present the VT interview with David G. Schwartz. By the way... he's not a ping-pong champion, but he does know Jiu-Jitsu so step back.
VT: Hey Dave, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. First off, can you give our readers the "Readers Digest" condensed version of the life of David Schwartz... where you grew up, how you ended up in Vegas, favorite breakfast cereal... you know the drill.
DS: I was born and grew up in Atlantic City, where I worked a bunch of places, including the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. I did my undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania and got my Ph.D. in history from UCLA. After I got my degree, I needed a job with benefits, so instead of bumming around LA scrounging for adjunct work, I moved back to AC and took a job in casino surveillance at the Taj. I spent about a year there. In January 2001 I moved out to Vegas and took my job at UNLV. It was a big step up from surveillance, and it's given me a chance to do some writing, which is what I've always wanted. Breakfast ceral? Gimme Lean Crunch isn't bad, but I usually go for oatmeal.
VT: Your book Suburban Xanadu: The Casino Resort on the Las Vegas Strip 1945-1978 was originally written as a PhD dissertation... what drew you to Gaming Studies and Las Vegas History in particular?
DS: When I went to grad school, I learned that to get my degree I had to write a dissertation--basically a book--on some aspect of history that could let me do original research. I'd done my masters thesis on jazz and religious movements and was thinking about continuing in that direction, but the more I looked, the more apparent it became that there had been no real history written of casinos--no analysis of how the industry developed over the past 50 years. So I saw a niche. I'm still amazed that more people don't study this.
VT: What is a "Suburban Xanadu"?
DS: For the title, I wanted to evoke something that was prosaic but at the same time exotic: the "safe adventure" that casinos promoted in the 1950s. "Suburban" came about because the casinos themselves were outside of Las Vegas, and were basically strip-mall versions of nightclubs with casinos, restaurants, motels, and pool. "Xanadu" is a mythical paradise: Coleridge's Kubla Khan's "stately pleasure dome." I was also influenced by the Xanadu Theater at the Taj, subconsciously at least.