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Gaming history archived
in UNLV special collection

Jul 20, 2004 3:30 AM

Everything is there, packed away in box after box, in row after row of boxes, all of them holding a bit of Las Vegas history. And if the boxes had voices, they would speak of dreams, thousands of dreams, some of them realized and some of them dashed, but as the dreams played out, they left a record in their wake, and everything is there, in the boxes.

The boxes are in the Gaming Studies Research Center on the third floor of UNLV’s library, and the papers and documents they hold tell the story of southern Nevada, and especially of Las Vegas gambling. The boxes are chaperoned by David Schwartz, the center’s coordinator, who is quick to say, "We are not a museum. I don’t go out trying to solicit items."

Schwartz says the function of the center is to "document the history of the (gaming) business." The center does that with letters, planning documents, diaries, press releases, financial filings, memoirs, government documents, pamphlets, brochures and flyers, photographs of entertainers and Las Vegas.

Schwartz adds that the center contains "pretty much any book that comes out about gaming" as well as biographies of well-known gaming characters like Jimmy The Greek and even some gaming poetry. Schwartz, who arrived at the center three years ago from New Jersey, makes it clear that he doesn’t "do memorabilia (because that’s) commercial."

The center’s archives feature a collection from Harrah’s that includes clippings about Bill Harrah, the company’s corporate history, photographs, ad brochures, logos, corporate presentations and speeches, film video and audio tape, promotional publications and scrapbooks.

The MGM Mirage is in the continuing process of donating its archives. Among the papers in its box is an early representation of what some people — most notably Steve Wynn — referred to in its earliest incarnations as The Golden Nugget/Strip Hotel and Casino. It is a dream captured in a photograph of what a new kind of hotel-casino could look like if a person had enough vision.

By the time the vision became reality, it carried a new name, The Mirage, and while in its earliest representation it did not have a volcano, that feature was added and immediately became the hotel’s signature element. Moreover, in the early conceptions, there was a mundane parking area in front of the casino which was eliminated by the time the vision became reality, suggesting that even dreams can be fine-tuned.

Schwartz, who was working in surveillance at Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal in Atlantic City when UNLV called, said the contributions come from a range of sources that extend from private individuals to casinos.

He said that among the people who want to use the collected information, he gets calls from media representatives who want information for documentaries, and "a lot of calls from chip collectors who are running down the history of different properties."

Schwartz said he also gets calls from people who want something appraised "but I can’t do that because I’m not an Âí­appraiser." He advises those callers to "put it on e-bay and see what you get."

The special collections department at UNLV also holds what Schwartz estimates to be a hundred decks of cards as well as many non-gaming items that speak to the entire region of southern Nevada, such as copies of the now-defunct Valley Times daily newspaper. The department is also home to photographs and slides that speak to the history of gaming and southern Nevada and over 1,300 taped interviews with southern Nevadans.

So it is a room with many voices and much to say and show. People with the time to listen and read can discover what they don’t know on the third floor of the Lied Library from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. A sampling of the information can be tasted by going online at gaming.UNLV.edu.