World War One and Atlantic City

In response to this photo and Bat-Signal request for more info, I wanted to post a link to an Atlantic City history column I’d written for Casino Connection a few (nine) years back. Turns out that it’s one of the 10 or so AC history pieces not in the Casino Connection archives.

Looking at the sixty or so articles I wrote for Casino Connection over the years, I think I have the core of a pretty good book. But some articles will need some revision, both for content and style.

So here is the entire article, which has the answer to the original question, “What is this?”…after the jump.

Continue reading “World War One and Atlantic City”

My Boardwalk Homecoming in Vegas Seven

I’ve got a very special Green Felt Journal out in today’s Vegas Seven. No, it’s not like a “very special episode” of Diff’rent Strokes or The Fact of Life that’s going to pontificate on a current social issue. Instead, I’m talking about the usual stuff I talk about in that space–gambling, casinos, and tourism–but in a much more personal way than I usually do. Here’s a snippet:

The Atlantic City I left was on the other side of history: a city left for dead, one that maybe, someday, might come back. Like Las Vegas, it blew up its past; some of my earliest memories were the implosions of the grand Boardwalk hotels. But this wasn’t replacing the Dunes with Bellagio. Old Atlantic City—the Traymore, the Marlborough-Blenheim, Million Dollar Pier—hadn’t been improved upon; gold had been replaced with concrete and red neon, when anything was built at all. Unlike Las Vegas, you never could shake the sense that you were one or two generations from the golden age.

via A Boardwalk Homecoming | Vegas Seven.

I usually don’t get that autobiographical, because there’s usually not that much of a need for me to put myself into the story. After all, it’s usually pretty straight-forward stuff–a personality profile, a sketch of a current issue–that calls for, at most, some editorial comment, but not much personal reflection.

So this is a different kind of writing for me, but for this story, it’s a path that I had to take. If it succeeds, it’s largely due to the unstinting support and fantastic sounding board of my editor, Greg Blake Miller.

On a more (literally) pedestrian note, I’ve also got some thoughts on Revel over on Two Way Hard Three. I liked the place, quite a bit, but there were a few things that left me scratching my head.

Alfred Heston in Casino Connection

This month in Casino Connection, I take a look back at one of Atlantic City’s most honest public officials, and its first noteworthy historian, Alfred Heston:

Atlantic City has seen generations of public officials and interested citizens, but few residents have left a legacy as monumental as Alfred Miller Heston, a newspaper publisher, historian and city official.

via Making History: Atlantic City’s Alfred Heston | Casino Connection Atlantic City.

This was a fun one to write. Heston was a truly unique Atlantic City character, and his name lives on in the Heston Collection at the Atlantic City Free Public Library.

Trump Plaza History

This has been up for a while, but I haven’t linked it yet and, with the news that Donald Trump and Carl Icahn are dueling over Trump casino empire, it’s relatively timely: my piece on the early history of Trump Plaza in Casino Connection:

Trump was leery of the Casino Control Commission. It had forced Caesars World’s founders Clifford and Stuart Perlman to step down before giving Caesars Boardwalk Regency a license. It had denied a license to Hilton after the company had already built its casino. And it caused so many problems for Hugh Hefner that the Playboy founder torpedoed the Atlantis casino.

Trump refused to turn so much as a shovel of dirt until commissioners voted yea or nay on his license. In March 1982, he got his wish—and his license—in hearings that lasted two hours (by contrast, hearings for the Atlantis dragged out for two months).

via Plaza Suite: History of Trump Plaza | Plaza Suite: History of Trump Plaza | Casino Connection Atlantic City.

I quoted that bit because it seems relevant, with MGM Mirage leaving AC over regulatory issues.

Bugsy unearthed at UNLV!

We’re having a great talk next Thursday night down at the library. It’s been on the gaming.unlv.edu schedule for a while, but I thought it would be nice to offer a friendly reminder:

"There Were Few Solid Facts to Get in the Way":

Popular Perceptions of Bugsy Siegel as Founding Father of Las Vegas

A Special Presentation for Nevada Archives Week 2008

Larry Gragg, Ph.D.

Curators’ Teaching Professor

History and Political Science

Missouri University of Science and Technology

Rolla, Missouri

March 2008 Visiting Gaming Research Fellow

Special Time: 7:30 PM

Special Location: Lied Library Extended Study Lounge–First Floor

Center for Gaming Research: Gaming Research Colloquium Series

Dr. Gragg has done some very deep research into the Siegel conundrum, and I think that this is as close as we’re going to get to an honest, accurate assessment of his impact. If you are interested in Las Vegas or history, or both, I welcome you to come to campus for this free event. Bonus–since it’s after 7, parking is totally free as well.

AC Oral History Program

Historian James Karmel has let me know about a great oral history project that’s in progress in Atlantic City. From the AC Free Public Library:

The interviews will take place throughout the summer, with the final product scheduled to be made available to the public this winter. Once the project has been completed, the interviews will be stored and archived in the library’s Alfred M. Heston Collection room of Atlantic City history.

Dr. James Karmel is the contractor for this project. He is a professional historian and author of Gambling on the American Dream: Atlantic City and the Casino Era, which is based on oral history interviews he conducted from 2002-05. He is an associate professor of history at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Md.

This is the librarys second oral history project involving Atlantic City and casino gambling.

In 1978, the library interviewed 68 people representing the culturally and economically diverse mix of people who live or work in the city – small business owners, lifetime residents, city government officials, transients, school teachers and local celebrities. The interviews focused on the city’s history, the interviewees’ relationship to the city and their thoughts on the city’s future. More information on the 1978 Living History Project

Atlantic City Free Public Library.

I wish I had access to the 1978 project here. I could write some really interesting Casino Connection columns, I’m sure. Dr. Karmel and the ACFPL are doing valuable work here–this sort of thing is incalculably useful to future historians.

Chris Columbo, who was interviewed in the 1978 project, was a really good friend. I always said he was the great-grandfather I never had. I used to hang out with him when he was playing drums down at the Showboat and listen to his stories about the old times. Growing up around people like that might have been what sparked my interest in history. When you’ve got someone telling you what it was like to play with Lester Young, you really get an appreciation for all of the stories that are out there. I went to school and everything, but I think I learned a lot more from Chris and a few others back in Atlantic City.

Book review: Ghosts at the Table

Here’s a brand new review for a book that’s only been out a little more than a month! Am I on the ball, or what? And it’s not a random book that I’ve plucked from the shelves at Lied Library–it’s a poker book.

And it’s a good one. Read on, and you’ll see what I think about the book, as well as my ruminations about history, ghosts, and poker.
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All-in debt and holdem hold ups

The The New York Times Magazine, on 6/11 at least, is all about money. You know, the folding green stuff. Jackson Lears has a piece about The American Way of Debt. Being the excellent historian he is, Lears dissects the anti-debt jeremiads and discovers that Americans have always been quick to going into hock:

But as the history of debt in America shows, condemnations of extravagance can obscure more than they illuminate. The equation of debt and decline assumes that once upon a time Americans lived within their means and saved for what they bought. This is fantasy: there never was a golden age of thrift. Debt has always played an important role in Americans’ lives — not merely as a means of instant gratification but also as a strategy for survival and a tool for economic advance.
The American Way of Debt

But that’s not all. Remember the Lehigh University student who robbed a bank, reportedly to pay off his poker debts? If not, this might remind you:

Greg Hogan Jr. was on tilt. For months now, Hogan, a 19-year-old Lehigh University sophomore, had been on tilt, and he would remain on tilt for weeks to come. Alone at the computer, usually near the end of one of his long online gambling sessions, the thought “I’m on tilt” would occur to him. Dude, he’d tell himself, you gotta stop. These thoughts sounded the way a distant fire alarm sounds in the middle of a warm bath. He would ignore them and go back to playing poker. “The side of me that said, ‘Just one more hand,’ was the side that always won,” he told me months later. “I couldn’t get away from it, not until all my money was gone.” In a little more than a year, he had lost $7,500 playing poker online.

“Tilt” is the poker term for a spell of insanity that often follows a run of bad luck. The tilter goes berserk, blindly betting away whatever capital he has left in an attempt to recoup his losses. Severe tilt can spill over past the poker table, resulting in reputations, careers and marriages being tossed away like so many chips. This is the kind of tilt Hogan had, tilt so indiscriminate that one Friday afternoon this past December, while on his way to see “The Chronicles of Narnia” with two of his closest friends, he cast aside the Greg Hogan everyone knew — class president, chaplain’s assistant, son of a Baptist minister — and became Greg Hogan, the bank robber.

On Dec. 9, 2005, Hogan went to see “Narnia” with Kip Wallen, Lehigh’s student-senate president, and Matt Montgomery, Hogan’s best friend, in Wallen’s black Ford Explorer. Hogan, who was sitting in front, asked Wallen to find a bank so he could cash a check, and Wallen pulled over at a small, oatmeal-colored Wachovia. Inside, Hogan paused at the counter for a moment and then joined the line. He handed the teller a note that said he had a gun, which was a bluff. “Are you kidding?” her face seemed to say. He did his best to look as if he weren’t. With agonizing slowness, she began assembling the money. Moments later, a thin sheaf of bills appeared in the tray: $2,871. Hogan stuffed it into his backpack, turned around and walked back out to the car.

The Hold-‘Em Holdup

I’m waiting for someone to shift the blame for the holdup from poker to Narnia.

There’s a great comic-style illustration of Hogan’s slide in crime. It is eerily reminiscent of this 19th century series of lithographs about an earlier young gambler’s descent into madness.

A historian of Lears’ stature is able to rebut fears about current runaway debt by elegantly tracing the historical patterns of borrowing. I, on the other hand, see a somewhat hokey comic strip, and link to a series of lithographs with sarcastic captions. I’m guessing that I have a great, great deal of maturing as a scholar ahead of me.

Still, where else can you read about “a stern moralist in a silky komono?”

Gambling or investing in the future?

I read an article about the president’s proposed changes to Social Security that got me thinking about the great debate over whether investing in the stock market is or isn’t gambling.

Within the past week, I’ve written a draft of the section of Roll the Bones covering several stock bubbles of the 18th and 19th century. I’m going to give you a sneak preview sample, as that’s the best way to put the article into historical context:


[Even after several bubbles crashed] investors still sought the next “sure thing,” showing that the English gambling spirit was irrepressible. One writer described Jonathan’s, a coffeehouse near the royal [stock] exchange, as “being full of gamesters, with the same sharp, intent looks,” although these gamesters had turned in their cards and dice for stock in the Bank, East India, South Sea, and lottery tickets.

So is investing Social Security money in the stock exchange tantamount to gambling? Read on to see if the AARP and Christian Coalition have any more clue than 19th century English stockjobbers.

Continue reading “Gambling or investing in the future?”