Gambling has long been a fascination for creative minds – it is the obsession of the obsessed player literally throwing everything away for a final bet that is always (and still) a darkly seductive aspect of human behavior that everyone, from the novelist to the Filmmakers and artists want to explore and understand.
While we now know that gambling is a form of addiction and should always be conducted with caution and self-control, it is undeniable that rags to riches (or vice versa) are great reading – especially if they are settled on the internet often run-down and criminal underbelly of Las Vegas or another gambling mecca. The art of gambling has long fascinated people around the world, but novels had similar effects. Here are some excellent novels in which gambling takes center stage and is worth reading, whether you’re a punter yourself or just looking for a thrilling book to keep yourself stuck in.
Fools Die by Mario Puzo
The book written in 1978 by Mario Puzo may not be as well-known as his groundbreaking godfather trilogy, but no less well written. The story is about a group of people who initially had nothing to do with each other and who had interwoven after a game of chance in a hotel in Las Vegas.
What follows is a story of greed, corruption, bustle (and, of course, gambling) that leads to predictably disagreeable results for all of the main characters, especially the protagonist Merlyn – though at least he manages to survive at the end of the book Unlike most others. It’s just as blatant and leafy as Puzo’s godfather.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
You’ve probably seen the film with Johnny Depp’s legendary appearance as off-the-rail journalist Raoul Duke as he and his lawyer (Dr. Gonzo) wreak havoc in the US in search of the American dream. The book is not too dissimilar and is based on Hunter S. Thompson’s trip to Las Vegas with activist and lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta.
The two worked on an article about the murder of a Mexican-American activist by a sheriff during protests against Vietnam, and made Vegas a safer climate to discuss their plans. How much of the drug-induced surreal insanity of books is actually based on their experience is unclear, but the book remains a highly original, entertaining and concise commentary on the realities (and otherwise) of the American dream that Vegas is in many ways central.
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Based on his passion for first-hand gambling, Dostoyevsky’s book recounts the experiences of a fictitious Russian teacher named Alexei Ivanovich and his gradual obsession with the roulette table. Dostoevsky himself has lost most of his books’ rights due to his excessive gambling habits, so that more than a few grains of truth are probably woven into this fictitious story.
He played to the point where he lost everything. Then he agreed to a shady deal with F. T. Stellovsky. Fortunately, he managed to live up to the conditions, but his experience is certainly something he has preserved and inspired Ivanovich’s story.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
It’s no secret that Mr. Bond loves a bit of gambling and his incredible luck with women and escaping certain death situations also seems to follow him to the tables. While often not too far from a poker game, the roulette table (or simply the bar), Casino Royale is the real classic combination of bond and casino. There are a few incarnations in film form, but nothing really beats the original book.
It’s Bond’s very first outing and that makes it an iconic story in itself. The story of the book is also slightly different from the movies, so it’s worth reading. Instead of Specter, Bond tackles the somewhat less imposing but equally dangerous SMERSH organization, in which he has to defeat the evil Le Chiffre in a game of high stakes baccarat. Suffice to say, there are a lot of intrigues and tensions and it’s refreshing to see that Bond does not just hit the mark every game he plays in the book (at least initially).
Of course, the above books are just the tip of the iceberg – there are dozens of great stories telling the world of casinos and gambling. If you are looking for something even coarser than the fictitious settings, then some of the non-fiction books about events in the real world are a must. Casino: Love and Glory in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi is an example. It inspired the movie casino with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (in which Pesci is known to know how many everyday objects can attack people who misinterpret him) and provided a gripping and disturbing glimpse of the mafia-controlled casinos of the late ’70s and early 80s.