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The Last Honest Place in America: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas

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Veteran journalist Marc Cooper looks at the Las Vegas he loves, delves into its shady history, talks with dealers and strippers in this engaging book about how Vegas continually re-invents itself. The mob is no longer in control, having been driven out by mega-corporations. “Gambling” has been replaced by “gaming.” While one can always find sleaze in Vegas, there are also plenty of family-friendly things to do. It matters not if you are a whale (high roller) or play nickel slots. Vegas has a casino for you. It cheerfully re-invents itself overnight to keep those casinos floors busy. There’s no need for Vegas to be mobbed-up. Casinos are so profitable that they can be run completely legit.

Friends who grew up in Las Vegas say they liked it better when the mob ran it as it had more class and wasn’t just soulless corporations. While this may be true, nostalgia (except if it can be turned into a casino for those seeking a nostalgia experience) has little hold there. The casinos give the people what they want today, not what they wanted yesterday.

The book was published in 2004. Since then, Vegas has of course changed again. The once-seedy downtown area is enjoying a renaissance as the founder of Zappos and other investors are investing hundreds of millions to bring it back, focusing on arts and startups, as well as real estate investments.

“For me,” writes Cooper, “Las Vegas is the last, most honest place in America. Vegas is often described as a city of dreams and fantasy, of tinselish make-believe. But this is getting backwards. Vegas is the American market ethic stripped completely bare, a mini-world totally free of the pretenses and protocols of modern consumer capitalism. Watching it operate with barely any mediation generates nothing short of an intellectual frisson.”

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