When entering the Gamblers Book Club, Big Bertha awaits you.
Big Bertha is perched along the eastside wall. Her large stature and shiny personality are hard to miss. She’s the newest employee of the Gamblers Book Club; a tad over four months for the business that’s been open since 1964.
Big Bertha didn’t even need to apply. She stood across the street at the prior location when owners Adam Pennell and Jill Delozier thought she would make a great addition.
When you’re a slot machine larger than most humans, you have that kind of appeal.
Customers can meet Big Bertha at the store’s newest location, 727 S. Main St. A store’s purchase equals one pull of the gargantuan slot machine. Prizes range from 15 percent off, a deck of used casino cards, or a poker chip case.
Not everyone is a winner, though.
“It’s not your lucky day,” says Mary Wohlers to a customer pulling Big Bertha. “Stay out of the casino.”
Name your topic and book, and Wohlers will find it for you. She has been one of the constants at the Gamblers Book Club despite its numerous ownership changes. The book club has gone through four different owners since Wohlers began working in 2006.
It started with gambling historian Howard Schwartz. He retired in 2008-09, to which he then gave control of the store to four employees.
“Not as good as you think,” Wohlers said.
Another owner took over from 2010 until 2017, where Pennell and Delozier have been at the helm ever since.
“I’ve seen several owners and many employees come and go. Some stay a while, and some hardly at all,” she said. “But all of us that work here, it’s a really good fit together, and we pretty much know each other’s jobs.”
And the owners feel the same about their incomparable bookworm.
“Thank God we have Mary,” Pennell said.
Along with ownership changes, the GBC has moved four times in 13 years — beginning with 11th street and Garces Avenue, then to 15th Street and Tropicana Avenue, to Eastern Avenue and Russell Road, then all the way back to downtown where if you include the move across the street, it’s really five times.
This switch is beneficial to everyone. The book club downsized from two buildings and a warehouse, capping a total of 6,100 square feet, to a more compact environment. A warehouse in the back of the store holds all stock and inventory as easy as the giant warehouse across the street. Behind said warehouse is an even bigger slot machine than Big Bertha, sitting on a trailer with flat tires. There is no threat of Big Bertha losing her job.
Manning the warehouse is Wendy Rock, who might be the rock of the staff. Rock has been with the store since 1984.
If you need a poker table designed or custom-made poker chips, she’s the one to go to. As the manager of the Gamblers General Store, she’s seen numerous owners come and go. The constant has been the family-first environment. It’s a setting that makes those like Rock and Wohlers want to come to work to every day.
“Especially now with this ownership, these guys are wonderful,” Rock said. “They’re a nice young couple, local, hands-on. It’s very pleasurable now. My philosophy is I just do what I do until they tell me not to do it anymore.”
Pennell and Delozier weren’t aware that investing in the Gamblers General Store meant buying the Gamblers Book Club; the club bought the store in December 2013. They understood the significance of the book club, which made the venture more meaningful.
The book club’s current location used to be a CrossFit gym, and it shares the parking lot with the new Universal Domino League headquarters, which opened Aug. 2.
“I’ve always had full-time jobs and it’s all revolved around gaming and tourism,” Pennell said. “I was just looking for something to buy full-time, and the Gamblers General Store was there.”
The GBC and General Store is home to any and everything gambling related. Big Bertha isn’t the only slot machine taking residence. There are multiple slot machines perched against the wall along the entrance. Poker tables and blackjack tables encompass the center perimeter, each available to buy or rent.
There’s enough of a walkway that leads you straight to Wohlers sitting at her desk and ready to point you to the right books. Cases of books rest along the north and east side walls. Books for sale range from sports titles such as Tim Tebow’s “Through My Eyes,” to those containing poker tips like Jonathan Little’s “Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker.”
There was also a copy of the 2010 NHL rulebook for sale that this author had to buy.
That’s not all. There’s software (poker games, of course), CDs and even audiobooks.
But there’s just something about the actual book that brings joy to Delozier.
“People still want books,” she said. “People still want an actual book. I’m surprised even young kids [that come here] want a book. They want to turn the page, they don’t want to put it down. We get that question a lot: ‘Do you still sell books?’ Of course. It’s great.”
Wohlers still beams with joy whenever she talks to customers who say the main reason they come to Las Vegas is to check out the book club. They’ve had visitors from all over the world come for books, to handicap sheets for football season, as well as Phil Steele’s College Football Preview.
The Minnesota native and die-hard Vikings fan isn’t ready to retire just yet, so long as she continues to love coming to work every day.
“There’s a lot of things I really love about this job. I love being in a book store. I love meeting people from all over the world,” she said. “They say, ‘I’ve been ordering for years.’ Then I’ll say, ‘Oh, come to my desk. Let’s look you up.”
“That’s really exciting. There’s a lot of stuff to love here. I love books and I love my job, so it all comes together.”