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The Bookworm Gambler’s Digest: Grandissimo

David G. Schwartz Grandissimo cover

Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas is a force to be reckoned with: it has everything a book need to be compelling and exciting.

David G. Schwartz has really outdone himself with this one. He has opened our eyes up to the vast gambling empire that Jay Sarno built from the ground up, long before internet casinos. From the moment you pick up this book, you’ll appreciate just how colossal an accomplishment it is. It becomes completely clear from this book: without Jay Sarno, there wouldn’t be a modern Las Vegas. Or at the very least, it wouldn’t be this awesome and popular.


• Grandissimo was never built
• Mob dealings
• Sarno’s vision made Vegas

Straight away, the title has a clever little twist: Grandissimo is the third ultra large gambling establishment that Sarno wanted to build, but he never managed to get the funding for it. At first, Sarno got the money he needed to build Caesars Palace and Circus Circus from his friend Jimmy Hoffa, but when Jimmy got out, Sarno was left with great plans for a third resort, but no financial means to build it. His great dreams of luxury hotel rooms and US poker rooms had to wait.

Successful men wouldn’t be so successful without some shady deals, would they?

Las Vegas Casino

Circus Circus is still on the Strip for some old fashioned entertainment (Wikipedia)

Schwartz doesn’t leave stones unturned: he describes the way Sarno stepped into the world of questionable dealings, like the skimming at Circus Circus. He also talks about the never-ending federal inspections to uncover what exactly Sarno was doing. But guys, he only wanted another mega casino resort and pay of his loans. Poor Sarno. At one point, Schwartz even mentions a little something something about alleged mob connections that Sarno had. Tension, level: 100. Schwartz, however, remains fair: he acknowledges the fact that without Sarno’s creative mind and stance, Las Vegas would not be as modern as it is now.

If Sarno somehow did manage to pile up the money for Grandissimo, he would’ve been the first man in Vegas to build a mega resort (not Steve Wynn with The Mirage.) Vegas towards the end of the 1960s was really a turmoil of mobsters and the fight for property in the up and coming city. Everyone knew that it was a town full of potential and anyone who managed to pull off something great there would get insanely, dirty rich. Gambling was not as widespread; there were no mobile casinos, so everyone tried their best to make it – as soon as possible. It was the era of make it or break it.

Schwartz captures the essence of Sarno’s time

Jay Sarno Las Vegas CP Baccanal Room

Sarno with Ceasar’s Palace staff in 1967 (LV News Bureau)

Schwartz understands perfectly the importance of Sarno in the development of Vegas to what it is today. Thanks to him, we learn that without Sarno, Las Vegas wouldn’t be the colourful, diverse and lively city it is now. Sarno’s hotels set the perfect precedent for all that is wonderful about the Mecca of gambling, and for that, every gambler should be thankful. What’s great about David G. Schwartz is not only his style of writing, but his vast knowledge in about what he is writing about.

Reading his book, you can feel that he has done his homework extensively. He leaves no room for mistakes and no room to feel bad for any of the characters; he’s reports objectively and it truly is refreshing. He shows us exactly how Sarno rose to the pinnacle of Las Vegas, and how fast he dropped from glory when things went sideways. Whatever the facts may be, we have the sense that through Schwartz’s objectivity, there is a bit of sympathy for Sarno: after all, it couldn’t have been easy to build up an empire in times in which mobile casino gambling
didn’t even exist to begin with.

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