New Book Looks At Gambling, Gangsters, And Government

Written By Katie Callahan on October 6, 2017 - Last Updated on July 6, 2022
Flamingo Casino entrance

A new book on gambling intrigues by the title alone: “Gangsters to Governors: The New Bosses of Gambling in America.”

In a Q&A with the San Diego Union-Tribune, journalist David Clary traces the history of online gambling.

He comes to the conclusion that often states drive the narrative.

“I just got interested in how gambling became so pervasive in our culture,” he told the UT. “And what I found out is that government is the key element in making what once was viewed as a vice acceptable to the masses.”

Clary learned the ropes of gambling from the racetracks in New York and became fascinated by it. His first time in Las Vegas maintained his interest.

One gamble leads to two

One of the themes throughout his book is the pervasiveness of various forms of gambling once others become accepted. He said that usually that one form opens the floodgates for the rest, and it’s been seen time and time again.

Beyond that, Clary speaks to sports betting and the Supreme Court, a ruling everyone in the casino and gambling world is closely watching.

“Betting drives so much of the fan interest and the TV ratings,” he told the UT. “People are not really watching the games. They’re watching the money.”

He also speaks to how gambling will survive, given that 48 states have some form of acceptable gambling and technology allows anyone to bet.

Politicians’ promises fall flat

Clary does go into problem gambling as an issue in addition to the misconceptions of Indian gaming. He himself is a “very light gambler.” He is quick to call out the issues with state budgets calling on gambling for economic development. Clary calls out these promises as largely empty, and says people should not be so quick to accept them.

According to Amazon, Clary explores these controversial histories, documenting various gangsters and modern-day big wigs like:

  • John “Old Smoke” Morrissey
  • Benny Binion
  • Bugsy Siegel
  • Donald Trump
  • Chris Christie
  • Sheldon Adelson

Clary calls out gambling myths

The book, which took Clary six years, also makes some interesting so-called discoveries.

For example, P.T. Barnum sold $2,000 in lottery tickets in a day in 1830 working raffles as a teen. A Paris perfume shop owner invented the mutual stake in 1865 for horse races. Also, Bill Harrah (prior to his self-titled casino fame) made $25,000 by giving Circle Game players in the 1930s comfortable stools and nice drapes.

The book, and Clary, revealed this in an interview with Times of San Diego. Included within it is the dissolution of the myth that Siegel invented the Las Vegas Strip, when two other casinos were already on the Strip and Siegel’s pet project wasn’t successful until after his death.

Clary claims to do something that other books on gambling don’t: connect it to the larger story of gambling’s legalization.

Book quick facts

  • Clary focuses on the US and the history of gambling over how games developed.
  • The narrative is 115,000 words with 750 footnotes to sources and references.
  • Clary made two visits to Las Vegas to conduct research at the Center for Gaming Research. He also went to Atlantic City and stayed at Resorts for three nights.
  • Clary wrote the book to explore the shift from vice to public policy tool and consider the pros and cons.

Rutgers University Press will officially publish the book on Oct. 30 of this year, but interested readers can read an excerpt from the book on the author’s website.

Photo by BravoKiloVideo /

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Katie Callahan

Katie Callahan is a freelance journalist, blogger and copywriter who covers everything from poker, business, education and politics to construction, startups and cybersecurity.

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