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The 101 Most Asked Questions About Las Vegas & Casino Gambling by George Joseph

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 1997)


George Joseph is the real deal. Director of Surveillance at Bally's in Las Vegas, Mr. Joseph has been around the gambling scene for a long time and has, by his own admission, seen it from all sides of the baize. Mr. Joseph graduated from being a professional magician and singer (!) at the Aladdin Hotel to Director of Surveillance in the late 1970s, went on to work at the Dunes and then Bally's. Savvy cardicians appreciate his 1982 manuscript, Hand Mucking: The Art of Switching Cards in Play, and his pamphlet concerning the Overhand Shuffle Action Palm. More recently, viewers of an A&E documentary about Las Vegas had the opportunity to see Mr. Joseph demonstrate some of his card and dice handling skills. George Joseph isn't your usual third-rate magician posing as a gambling expert, claiming to be banned from the tables but in fact unable to calculate the odds on a coin toss. Like I said, this guy is the real deal.

As such he is unquestionably qualified to write a book answering common questions about Las Vegas and casino gambling—which is quite a change of pace, considering the volumes of nonsense produced on these subjects on a regular basis. These are the kinds of questions that magicians hear all the time, and so now the answers are right here in a handy form so you can stop shoveling the bull crap at your audiences, too.

Right at the start the author jumps in with the answer to the question, "Does it make a difference which spot I sit in at a blackjack table?" Mr. Joseph explains why "most serious blackjack players hate to see an inexperienced player seated at third base," because plays contrary to basic strategy are "annoying to a basic strategy player." Makes sense, as any experienced player will tell you, and it's a good thing to know— but then Mr. Joseph points out that "from a mathematical standpoint, how another player plays his or her hand and how they bet does not really affect the statistical probability of the players around them." In other words, in discussing this question he covers all the bases, and continues to do so throughout the book. Elsewhere you can get the real lowdown on popular conversation starters like the Black Book of banned players, along with the Griffin Book (and I've yet to meet someone who claimed to be in the Griffin Book who actually was, while I suspect a few who claim not to be but probably are). Despite his employment in the industry for a name casino, the author rarely plays coy with the reader and generally seems to do his best to provide the right information in as succinct a manner as possible.

Having said all that—and remember, there are still 98 questions to go, the final one being, "Who was the greatest heavyweight champ?" (the answer being a lengthy and informative discourse about the great boxer, Joe Louis, who happens to have been the author's late father-in-law)— I must acknowledge the seriously distracting production quality of the book. There is no index, and the table of contents has no page numbers. Far worse, the book has clearly not been edited in any capable or meaningful fashion. It is full of typos, misspellings, grammatical faux pas and a catalog of editorial no-no's. This is frustrating, as the content deserves better. The author also has the habit of sprinkling the book with random jokes that are often less than funny and occasionally unpleasant. All of this is too bad, because in one of the stand-out items of the book, a story about one of the first and most effective cheats the author ever encountered— namely, his grandmother—the author demonstrates a wonderful ability to write skillfully, effectively, and with genuine humor of his own. Sometimes the greatest value of a good editor is not so much to point out errors but rather to encourage a writer's strengths and maintain his or her focus thereupon. Perhaps Mr. Joseph will consider properly producing a subsequent edition, because this is the kind of book that will never go out of style. But until that happens, I highly recommend that you suffer the sloppy editorial work and pick this up anyway, because the information it contains is a bargain at the price and a fun read to boot. And the cover of the book includes a photo—well, two—of Georgie Berasek, one of the featured dancers in Jubilee, the terrific, long-standing revue show at Bally's, who is temporarily on hiatus dancing in Korea. Her fans look forward to her return to her native haunts soon, but in her absence, enjoy the book cover, and the rest of the contents, too.

6" X 9" perfect bound; 186 pages; not illustrated; 1996; Publisher: G&C Enterprises