We are reminded of familiar names when we think of Las Vegas past. Benny Binion, Bugsy Seigel, Howard Hughes, Sam Boyd, Kirk Kerkorian, Robert Stupak, Sassy Sally & Vic Vegas (the last two Downtown’s fictional neon icons, of course.)
And then, there was Jay Sarno. A man who was so important to the growth of Las Vegas and a man who was a visionary, and yet at times in his own world, beyond reality. You see, Jay Sarno was Las Vegas in human form, full of incredible vision accompanied at times by incredible folly. He indulged every dark desire he could think of, and while helped build the Vegas we know today, was eventually consumed by his lusts. But, along the way, Sarno created & inspired a new generation of casino explorers – he was the First Emperor of Las Vegas.
Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas is a book about the life of Jay Sarno, who built Caesars Palace and Circus Circus and inspired modern Las Vegas. The author, Dr. Dave Schwartz, the Director of the Center for Gaming Research ay UNLV, is masterful in intertwining the history of Jay Sarno with the feeling of reading about a fictional character. He is a writer, speaker, and consultant whose areas of specialty include the history of gambling, gaming statistics, casino surveillance and security, gaming and technology, casinos and social media, and related issues.
In addition to his work at UNLV, “Dr. Dave,” as some of us call him, is an active consultant and has published three books about gambling, including “Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, which this blogger reviewed last year in “Roll the Bones” is a MUST READ!
Jay Sarno built two path-breaking Las Vegas casinos, Caesars Palace (1966) and Circus Circus (1968), and planned but did not build a third, the Grandissimo, which would have started the mega-resort era a decade before Steve Wynn built The Mirage. As mobsters and accountants battled for the control of the town, Las Vegas had endless possibilities–if you didn’t mind high stakes, stiff odds and the dangers involved. Sarno invented the modern Las Vegas casino, but he was part of a dying breed, changed by the new ownership and business that corporations brought in the 80’s.
The book is a wonderful read. Whether you are a fan of Vegas or gambling history , or even if you enjoy reading about larger-than-life characters, this book will be a tough one to put down once started. The background of the self-made man who built Caesars is just the beginning of a roller-coaster ride through Jay Sarno’s life.
Dr. Dave wrote, “Sarno’s life tells us everything we need to know about how the Las Vegas we all know today came into existence: it’s the story of how a determined man looking for action can change the world, and even make himself an emperor —for a while, anyway.”
My favorite part was the building of Circus Circus, which we now consider a second-tier property on the strip. But in the late 60’s and 70’s, Jay Sarno’s Circus Circus was beyond the scope of the expected – the combination of lavish family circus entertainment and over-the-“Big Top” (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) gambling and dining options, all designed to make everyone feel like a winner.
Jane Ann Morrison of the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote, “Reading “Grandissimo” was a pleasure because it was a fair, frank and factual history of a crass and complex man, a winner and a loser. It wasn’t a hit piece, nor was it revisionist history. Historians can’t ask for more.”
I agree. Thanks Dr. Dave.
That’s all for now.