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Suburban Xanadu: The Casino Resort on the Las Vegas Strip and Beyond Paperback – June 1, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0415935579 ISBN-10: 0415935571 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (June 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415935571
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415935579
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #655,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Suburban Xanadu is an important addition to what we know about America's most exciting and controversial city. Dave Schwartz peels back myth to get to the heart of what really makes Las Vegas tick. A must for anyone who cares about culture in the new century!.
–Hal Rothman, author of Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the Twenty-First Century

Suburban Xanadu tells the fascinating story of the rise of casinos on the Las Vegas Strip--something that has been much needed. Using the extensive Gaming Collection at UNLV, Dave Schwartz shows us that the popularity of casinos is no accident, but part of larger trends in American history. He approaches the topic with intelligence and thoughtfulness, and the result is a book that does a great job of explaining why Americans like casino resorts so much.
–Steve Wynn, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Wynn Resorts

Highly Recommended! Suburban Xanadu is a colorful and authoritative reading of the history of casino resort development in the United States. Schwartz's thesis--that Las Vegas in the 1950s and 1960s was brilliantly marketed as a safe vacation adventure for middle Americans trapped within everyday lives of conservatism and conformity--is both perceptive and spot-on.
–John Hannigan, author of Fantasy City: Pleasure and Profit in the Postmodern Metropolis

From the Publisher

David G. Schwartz of the University of Nevada Las Vegas tears down myth to create an honest, accurate history of the casino industry.

While the history of Las Vegas-style casino resorts is relatively brief, dating only to the 1940s, these institutions are fascinating subjects for historical study. Working from the assumption that the men and women who operated and vacationed in Strip casinos were "more or less rational people acting to maximize their profit," Schwartz examines the conditions that led to the first flowering of the casino industry outside of Las Vegas in the late 1940s and explains how a variety of factors aided the growth of the Strip through the 1990s. When other states tried to use casinos to provide economic stimuli, however, they often ignored the fact that casino resorts were specific adaptations to the conditions of a suburban strip in an isolated city, and not blueprints for urban redevelopment.

Schwartz, acclaimed by Casino Design magazine as "gaming’s leading historian, rewrites the standard history of casinos, bringing to light many previously ignored facts about the resorts of the Strip and elsewhere. Some of Schwartz’s major points include the following:

"neither casino operators nor patrons are fundamentally deviant, but are in fact more or less rational people acting to maximize their profit and vacation value, respectively." (2)

As they have been developed on the Strip, casino resorts are incompatible with classic urban downtowns (6-7)

The popularity of illegal urban slots in the 1940s doomed them to extinction in the 1950s, and paved the way for the growth of the Las Vegas Strip as a vacation destination. (22)

The first casino resort on the Strip, the Hotel El Rancho Vegas, opened in April 1941, over five years before the more famous Flamingo. (34)

The first themed Strip casino, the western Last Frontier, opened in 1942. (44)

Hollywood restaurateur Billy Wilkerson, not the infamous Bugsy Siegel, was the actual founder of the Flamingo Hotel. (52)

The anti-gambling campaigns of Estes Kefauver and others in the early 1950s actually boosted Las Vegas by eliminating the competition. (72)

Syndicate ownership, not sole proprietorship, was the norm for early casinos. (104)

Casinos had strict accounting procedures and controls as far back as the 1940s, long before the so-called "corporate takeover" in the 1970s. (114)

Conventions, not its reputation as "Sin City," made Las Vegas a leading destination in the 1960s. (134)

The rebirth of casino theming with Caesars Palace in 1966 was rooted in fiscal necessity and made solid economic sense. (136)

Long-building economic trends, not Howard Hughes’s whim to buy up available casinos, led to the arrival of corporate casino ownership in the late 1960s. (151)

The successes and shortcomings of casinos in places like Atlantic City and Mississippi can be directly traced to their evolution on the suburban Las Vegas

Strip. (181)

Internet gaming will change the landscape of legal American gambling: "The containment of casinos in space, strained by the expansion of [terrestrial] casinos…completely collapsed with the introduction of Internet gaming. (213)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "sarasmile70" on July 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
The author, a professor and coordinator of the Gaming Studies Research Center at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, really hits the jackpot with this, his first publication. Although I am a financial analyst, specializing in the gaming industry, I was intrigued by Dr. Schwartz's historical analysis of the development of legalized gaming in Las Vegas and throughout the United States. The book is extremely well-researched and, while clearly written by a scholar, it has a friendly, accessible style. Suburban Xanadu has something for those interested in business, American history, popular culture, gaming, "the Rat Pack," sociology, etc. I have recommended this book to my colleagues and I look forward to reading future works from this unique young author.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Vanderwood on May 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
Most writings on casino life in the U.S. are larded with celebrity vignettes, unsubstantiated data, and airy fluff. But David Schwartz has produced a well-researched, carefully documented, clearly written historical account of Las Vegas casino culture from its inception in the early 1930s to the present. His carefully contextualized work shows how changing currents in American cultural life and leisure preferences shaped the style, architecture, and budgetary considerations of those who aimed to profit from casino ownership in an improbable desert environment. One learns from his book of the risk involved in such investments, and how the famous Las Vegas strip has always rested on unsteady financial and political pylons. Finally we have a solid, fascinating historical account of the casino industry and its consumers.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Vegas Afficianado on March 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
When I first saw this book, I wondered--was there really an interesting history of casinos? I usually read about weightier historical topics (Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, for instance), but every time I go to Vegas I'm struck by how the entire place seemed to have been built in the last five years.

So, seeing the generally positive reviews (and checking out the author's website which is quite interesting), I ordered a copy. I was expecting a fairly dense read--the author is a professional historian--but I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get into.

There is a lot of great information about Vegas history in here, as well as Atlantic City, and a little on Indian casinos and riverboats too. I'd seen the movie Bugsy, but I had no idea that he wasn't the real founder of the Strip. Thanks to this book, I know now.

The author must have had a lot of fun writing this; even though it's a pretty serious book, there are some great one-liners in there. I actually laughed a few times.

The more I read, the more I realized there is to this topic, and I wish that the author had written more about Reno, for example, but for starters, this is a great introduction to the history of casinos, and a fun read. For anyone who's taken the trip to Vegas and wondered about where it came from, it's a welcome addition to your library.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By G. Oseff on March 10, 2005
Format: Paperback
Suburban Xanadu is a great book that really captures the history of Las Vegas. I took the class that was taught by Professor David Schwartz and it was well worth buying the book. I have had many of my friends and business colleagues read this book and they thought it was great. Suburban Xanadu is must read to truly understand Las Vegas past and how it all got started.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding book about the post-war casino history in Las Vegas. It is an in depth treatment of a very large subject. It is not filled with Rat Pack era anecdotes that you have seen in scads of Las Vegas books (the kind that are usually footnoted "Las Vegas News Bureau"). It is more about how it happened than who played where. Having said that, it is very readable and accessible.
Schwartz is probably the world's foremost authority on the subject matter. And may be the only person who teaches it at the university level. Anyone who can get a cover blurb from Hal Rothman and Steve Wynn has to be respected.
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More About the Author

If you're here, I'm guessing that you are at least a little curious about gambling and history. To be honest, that's why I'm here, too. Everything I've written has started with me asking a question and not finding an easy answer. I write to share the interesting things I learn by trying to find the answers.

I first got interested in gambling as a kid growing up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the 1970s. Some of my earliest memories are of the classic hotels of the city being imploded to make way for modern casinos with hotel towers that had none of the charm of the original. Despite this early evidence of that, perhaps, history might not have the strongest hold over people, I decided to major in it as an undergrad, along with anthropology. When it came time to go to grad school, I chose history over anthropology, though I can't recall as I'm writing this exactly why I made that decision.

In grad school I was preparing myself for a career as a college history professor when a small exercise called the dissertation stepped in my way. I would have to choose something to write a book-length historical study on, and it had to be something that would contribute in some way to the literature.

That's when I remembered the questions I'd had about casinos as a kid: Why did they need to blow up those beautiful old buildings to build new ones that didn't look nearly as nice? If they just wanted to gamble, why didn't they just let people gamble wherever they wanted? With a few questions like that, I was on my way to writing a dissertation that got me researching casinos.

From there, I haven't looked back, except for the year that I spent after I got my degree working in casino surveillance in Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal casino. I'd worked at the Taj earlier in security,and spending some time in surveillance gave me an appreciation for just how complex casinos are, and it kindled an interest in a whole other set of questions.

Since arriving at UNLV back in 2001, I've been running the Center for Gaming Research, which has let me look at some very interesting areas of gambling and Las Vegas history.

My website has a ton of info about my writing, professional, and creative work. So feel free to check it out at www.dgschwartz.com.

As far as the writing goes, I've written four books from cover to cover, put out a second edition of one with substantial revisions and expansions, and edited two more. You can read smaller bits of my writing (between a few paragraphs and 3,000 words) at Vegas Seven magazine, where I'm the gaming and hospitality editor. I write a biweekly column there, longer feature pieces, and shorter items as well.