A Gambling Book Worth Reading

Whale Hunt in the DesertThe vast majority of books about gambling hold out the faint (and mostly spurious) promise that they’ll help you somehow gamble better. Or smarter. Or longer. They suggest, usually erroneously, that they contain some sort of heretofore unexpressed secret about beating unbeatable games. These books may be safely ignored, unless you’re a hopeless degenerate who feels infinitesimally better about your compulsion after having been reassured by a charlatan author that you’re doing the best you can.

The gambling books we’re interested in — and there are woefully few — tell about real human beings, geniuses and fools alike, taking on an intractable opponent. We’re interested in gambling books that show how gamblers, good and bad (but especially talented ones), think and feel about game problems. Books like Gambling Wizards, by Richard Munchkin and Big Deal, by Anthony Holden, contain genuine enlightenment. And some, like Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town, are authentic works of literature; they’re a pleasure to read for the sake of reading.

A couple of gambling books have cracked the best-seller lists recently, both of which contained stories that had already been told elsewhere (and better) in previous tomes. The finest gambling book I’ve read in some time, though, will probably languish in relative anonymity, far from any top-sales list. (It’s distributed by a small publishing house out of Las Vegas that has trouble landing shelf space in the big chain stores.) The book is called Whale Hunt in the Desert, and in many ways it’s a masterpiece.Deke Castleman

The author, Deke Castleman, is a renowned editor — indeed, he made valuable contributions to our first two books — with a lengthy pedigree in the Nevada-Las Vegas-gambling subculture. Using as his platform the exploits of a man named Steve Cyr, a “superhost” who harpoons the biggest bettors in the world, pulling them into casinos with the promise of ostentatious accommodations, gourmet meals, and fellatio-on-demand, Castleman explores the entire ontology of gambling. The fear. The love. The greed. The pain. The fever. The lust. It’s a dazzling book, and not just because some of the outlandish anecdotes involving multi-million-dollar losers have never before appeared in print. Whale Hunt’s brilliance is that it’s a sensitive book about human desire disguised as a collection of stories about maladjusted sickos. On one level, Castleman’s narrative about big money and big egos is fun to read for the fantastical, “so-this-is-what-really-goes-on-behind-closed-doors” revelations. On another, more profound level, the book examines universal needs that everyone can relate to, even if they’ve never gambled a nickel.

Castleman, it seems, is that rare bird who writes as well as he edits. He’s a major talent. And Whale Hunt in the Desert is a major work.

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