"Everybody is looking for an edge," says Howard Schwartz, and a lot of gamblers go to his place to find it.
His place is the Gambler’s Book Shop, 630 South 11th St., where it has been doing business for 40 years. He is the owner but he also gives himself the title of marketing director and librarian for gamblers.
His store has books on all manner of wagering but he knows which game pays his bills: football.
"Football is king," he says, and bettors are looking for any help they can get to make betting on it profitable.
Even with all the magazines Schwartz has to offer on football, he says gamblers struggle to pick winners 55 to 60 percent of the time over the course of a season, and "anybody claiming 70 percent is a Pinnochio."
The Gambler’s Book Shop offers a lot more than books on how to play games and win money. There are biographies of the major figures in Las Vegas’ history, books on the history of Las Vegas and gambling, books on why people gamble and problem gambling, books on games people play in different parts of the country, books on how to become a dealer and books on collectibles and memorabilia, which Schwartz describes as a growing market. "There could be a fortune in anybody’s attic," he says.
To give the world a better idea of everything the store has to offer, Schwartz publishes and mails out a catalog every summer to a subscription list that he estimates has grown to 60,000 or 70,000 over the years.
The titles alone are intriguing. In the section on blackjack, for instance, the catalog makes it possible for the curious to buy books including Blackjack for the Clueless, Cheating at Blackjack Squared, The Morons of Blackjack and How to Detect Casino Cheating at Blackjack.
In the section of the catalog called casino games, there is a book called Gambling Scams by Darwin Ortiz, which sells for $12.95.
Other categories and the books grouped within them include: Craps, Beat the Craps out of the Casinos; Internet Gambling, Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling; Roulette, So You Wanna Be a Gambler: Advanced Roulette; Slots, Slots Smarts; Video Poker, Las Vegas Video Poker Buffet; Casino Management, Dealing and Employment, How to Become a Casino Cocktail Waitress; Las Vegas and Nevada, Saints in Babylon: Mormons in Las Vegas; Antiques and Collectibles, Cathouse Connection; History, Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia; Probability, How to Lie with Statistics; Sociology, How to Become a Professional Con Artist and More Scams from the Great Beyond; Prostitutes, The Brothel Bible; and Sports Betting, Football Betting: Strategies for the Smart Player.
One of the most extensive categories for book titles is poker. Three of the books available at the Gambler’s Book Store are Profiling Poker Nitwits, Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers, and Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Til Noon.
"Poker is red hot," says Schwartz, whose store grew out of a printing and retail operation run by John and Edna Luckman. "Television has created a lot of bad players who think they can play but they can’t."
When he was hired by the Luckmans in September of 1979, the store was a small family operation. Now it has seven employees and shelves overflowing with books, magazines, pamphlets and even computer discs and CDs. There’s even a separate room filled with used, out-of-print and collectible books and magazines on gambling.
The Gamblers Book Shop had just two magazines on football to offer its customers when the Luckmans were running it. Now, in what Schwartz calls the busy season, there are 20 magazines on college and professional football, and GamingToday newspaper.
Another change he has noticed is that blackjack players have gravitated to poker and sports betting.
But, perhaps the biggest change in his operation has been the advent of the Internet, which these days accounts for 60 percent of his sales.
Still, it is the written word and not the computer screen that dominates the building in which the ex-New Yorker and former Las Vegas sports writer deals with a frequently asked question: What’s the best book on betting angles?
In a conditioned response Schwartz never pushes a particular book.
"We’re not hustling anything," he says. "We sell information. How you use it is up to you."