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The Grit Beneath the Glitter

The Grit Beneath the Glitter: Tales from the Real Las Vegas

Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 388
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  • Book Info
    The Grit Beneath the Glitter
    Book Description:

    The Grit Beneath the Glitteris the first real look at the new Las Vegas from the inside. In it, long-time residents as well as professionals reflect on the transformation of one of the fastest-growing and most famous cities on earth, yet one about which relatively little is known. They offer a lively and compelling portrait of the other side of Las Vegas: the people and institutions that support the glitter of the gaming and entertainment industry. Examining a range of topics--from the city's commercial history, labor conditions, and environmental problems to an analysis of the famous lights of the Strip--the contributors uncover the contradictions between the illusion and the reality of the city, the seam between fantasy and the life it masks. The essays in this collection explore the world that employees experience when they enter gaming palaces from an employee entrance in a back parking lot rather than through the scripted doors of casino/hotel palaces. They take readers into the neighborhoods where 1.4 million Americans now live, attend school, eat dinner, and go to work.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93545-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction: The Many Faces of Las Vegas
    (pp. 1-14)

    No city in American history has ever changed its clothes as frequently or as rapidly as Las Vegas. No place has grown so fast in so many ways without allegiance to any of the forms of identity its past fostered. Nowhere has each incarnation of existence been more fleeting, more transitory, less based in anything but the human imagination. Reinvention has been the essence of the place, but what can you expect from a town with no compelling natural reason to be where it is? Malleability is the watchword of Las Vegas, a supple response to the changing cultural, intellectual,...


    • Scripting Las Vegas: Noir Naïfs, Junking Up, and the New Strip
      (pp. 17-29)

      Just beyond New York New York, the visitor to Las Vegas enters a zone of unknowing. The sidewalk gets as gritty and nondescript as the industrial edge of Puebla, Mexico. These gritty patches are important clues. In Puebla, factories and body shops encircle the baroque city center, grim reminders of a colonial tradition still in force. Wealth is shipped away, leaving zones of unknowing next to the glamorous eighteenth-century Zócalo and belle époque department stores. Vegas is also part of a colonial tradition, the American West, where mining companies and now gaming corporations ship profits out of state, leaving rough...

    • Las Vegas of the Mind: Shooting Movies in and about Nevada
      (pp. 30-58)

      Snow covers a Chicago sidewalk. At the curb stands the “All-American Gas Station,” a front for organized crime. Several sedans, circa 1975, drive past as a large Lincoln cuts through the fresh snow at the station’s entrance and parks next to one of the gas pumps. The Lincoln’s door opens and out comes a huge man with salt-and-pepper hair wearing a winter coat. He looks around to check if he is being watched and enters the gas station, carrying a heavy briefcase.

      The man is Frank Marino, part of Nicky Santoro’s “crew.” Money skimmed from the Tangiers casino in Las...

    • Discordant Infrastructure
      (pp. 59-70)

      While the spectacle of the Las Vegas façade overwhelms any visitor’s views, the automobile becomes a visual infrastructure. Architecture, social ceremony, travel, conspicuous consumption; all are reflected by the utility and subliminal presence of the automobile. Power lines, fences, gateways, traffic, and even the irony of a commercial lot full of expensive and in-need-of-repair motor boats deconstruct the popular image of Las Vegas. The glitter is an illusion, and visitors ignore the frame of the car window or the truck blocking their view. The ostentatious display of light and power is sufficient. Recently designated a “scenic route,” the Strip has...


    • Growth, Services, and the Political Economy of Gambling in Las Vegas, 1970–2000
      (pp. 73-98)

      The growth of Las Vegas has been a constant source of interest to the media and public alike. From the celebrated opening of Bugsy Siegel’s fabulous Flamingo in 1946 to the majestic arrivals of Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand, and their spectacular successors, Las Vegas has become an icon of modern popular culture.

      Since the early 1970s, the town has continued to boom, largely thanks to gambling (or gaming, as it is called in Nevada). Ten new major hotels arrived in that decade and a half dozen more in the 1980s. While Circus Circus (the hotel section opened in 1971),...

    • Lighting Las Vegas: Electricity and the City of Glitz
      (pp. 99-114)

      Every night the Las Vegas Strip is ablaze in a kaleidoscope of surreal electrical imagery, volcanic eruptions, and pirate battles. In an attempt to revitalize and draw tourist dollars back into the city’s downtown area, the multimillion dollar Fremont Street Experience opened in 1995, complete with an illuminated awning capable of producing a multitude of images for weary gamblers. Advertisements for the Experience boast that more than two million lights make up the awning. The beam of the Luxor Casino, projecting upward into space, is so bright that pilots report seeing it soon after takeoff from southern California airports. Pilots...

    • Build It and the Water Will Come
      (pp. 115-125)

      At the end of the twentieth century, Las Vegas faced a water crisis: the city would not be able to continue to grow into the new millennium on its existing water supply. By the late 1980s, planners at the Las Vegas Valley Water District could see that even with the most conservative estimates of growth rates and the most optimistic projections for conservation, Las Vegas would run out of water soon after the turn of the century. Estimates as to exactly how far the water supply could be stretched differed, depending on the variables planners used in their computer models,...

    • The Social Costs of Rapid Urbanization in Southern Nevada
      (pp. 126-144)

      Between 1950 and 1990, Nevada’s population grew by 651 percent, more rapidly than that of any other state, easily outdistancing Arizona’s gain of 389 percent during the same time.¹ The fastest growing state throughout the 1980s, Nevada shows no signs of slowing its rapid expansion. Most of this growth occurred in southern Nevada, where Las Vegas and its surrounding communities surpassed 1.3 million residents by 2000. Key actors in the city and the majority of ordinary citizens have heartily embraced the unbridled expansion of recent years. While many of those in the “urban growth coalition,” particularly those in the hotel/gaming/recreation...

    • Rise to Power: The Recent History of the Culinary Union in Las Vegas
      (pp. 145-175)

      The story of the Culinary Union’s rise to power in Las Vegas is a dramatic tale in which workers battle mega-resorts and wealthy casino families in the most unlikely union town in America. In the past decade, the casino economy and its enviable standard of living have been responsible for Las Vegas’s explosive growth. Thousands of people move to the Las Vegas Valley each month because good jobs are being generated in the gaming industry. The jobs are part of a growing national service economy, but here they come with middle-class wages and benefits. That standard of living, which allows...

    • Class Struggle in Oz
      (pp. 176-184)

      The eighty-eight-foot lion that guarded the entrance to MGM’s Emerald City casino looked unusually glum on the eve of the Memorial Day holiday, 1993. As dust devils chased early evening commuters down Tropicana Boulevard, Las Vegas police strapped tear-gas masks to their gun belts. Sullen resort security men in blue blazers stood sentry behind hastily improvised little signs declaring the adjacent sidewalk, probably the busiest section of the casino Strip, “private property.” Earlier in the day, the management of Kirk Kerkorian’s $1.1 billion Ozthemed family gambling complex had warned employees about “dangerous chaos,” while a police spokesman had fretted that...


    • “Squeezing the Juice Out of Las Vegas”: Reflections On Growing Up in Smalltown, USA
      (pp. 187-194)

      Having “juice” was everything when I was a kid growing up in Las Vegas in the 1970s. Juice was not a tangible thing. You couldn’t actually see it, but you knew when someone had it. If you had juice or access to someone with it, you could get into any show or restaurant on the Strip—without paying. The joy of having juice lay only partially in the fact that you didn’t have to pay. The real joy was knowing thatyou hadthe juice. Having juice also meant that you didn’t have to wait in a line to see...

    • I Didn’t Know Anybody Lived There
      (pp. 195-207)

      Icringe whenever someone asks, “So, where are you from?” I know the next few minutes of conversation by heart. “Las Vegas? Oh, I didn’t know anybody lived there.” I shrug my shoulders. But the second question always follows, “So what was it like growing up in Vegas?” I never know what to say. I could bring up stories people want to hear, of my sister Sukey baby-sitting me backstage of a Liberace show in between her dance numbers, or how I went to school with the mob’s offspring, or the tacky grass shack bar with its blue rainwater fountain we...

    • How I Became a Native
      (pp. 208-213)

      1980: My little girl said casually: “Did Mom tell you about Kristen?” I said, “No.” “Well,” she said, “You know, I kinda asked Kristen if she was going to Lisa’s Halloween party. When she said, ‘No,’ I asked her if she had been invited. She said she had been. Then she said, ‘I really can’t go to parties, because, well, I shouldn’t talk about it, but I have like a housekeeper who brings me to school and picks me up. He really isn’t a housekeeper. He is a bodyguard. There are some bad people who told my Dad that they...

    • Inside the Glitter: Lives of Casino Workers
      (pp. 214-240)

      I come from a large Mormon family. We came over with the pushcarts. My people came across from England, and were converted back east in the days of Joseph Smith. My kids were raised within the church and they’re raising their children that way.

      I came to Vegas from Utah when I decided that marriage was no longer right. I was twenty-six and I had three kids to support. My mom said, “Well, the waitresses here seem to do pretty good with tips, so why don’t you come on down?” My dad was here on a construction site. I found...


    • “She Works Hard for Her Money”: A Reassessment of Las Vegas Women Workers, 1945–1985
      (pp. 243-259)

      When I received my first academic position at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I thought the fates were having a little fun with me. I am a feminist. History is most interesting to me when interpreted with a gender analysis. My familiarity with Las Vegas amounted to a brief glimpse years earlier while on a cross-country trip. Unlike the millions of visitors, who flocked to the city to experience its constructed fantasies, I preferred the tangible beauty of the area’s high deserts and canyons to the amusements of “Glitter Gulch.” In fact, as a young progressive adult in the...

    • The Racial Cauldron
      (pp. 260-267)

      Las Vegas’s frenzied Memorial Day weekend in 1992 was winding down with the promise of a big storm. Spring lightning danced in the dark clouds above Charleston Peak and the Valley of Fire. As raindrops the size of silver dollars intermittently splattered the sidewalks outside, weary casino tellers counted a quarter-billion dollars in holiday revenue. Across the Mojave, 50,000 homebound revelers were strung out almost bumper to bumper, from Ivanpah Dry Lake to the outskirts of Los Angeles, 250 miles away.

      In a small park in the northwest part of town, several hundred Crips and Bloods, ignoring the storm warnings,...

    • Inside Jean
      (pp. 268-290)

      Getting into prison the first time was easy. I was a stringer for a nowdefunct trade publication, and enough people knew about my interest. So when the story came along, my editor atNevada Contractorthought of me right away. Prison seemed an unlikely place to hold a job fair, but, as he explained, the construction business in Las Vegas is notorious for its transient workforce. Men fresh out of prison have an incentive to show up for work regularly—it’s one of the conditions for probation. “And they couldn’t be any worse than the people we hire right now...

    • Looking into a Dry Lake: Uncovering the Women’s View of Las Vegas A Film Journal
      (pp. 291-304)

      I’m standing at the edge of what I think must be a dry lake. The air is perfectly still and brutally hot. The lake is waterless, but full to the brim with light. I’m ninety miles from Las Vegas, and I don’t want to go any further. I think, this is it. This must be the place.

      I’ve been making excursions to Las Vegas to interview women for a documentary film. I ask each of them—where’s the woman’s space in Las Vegas? There had to be something else, something other than the absurdly oversized MGM lion, the world’s longest...


    • Colony, Capital, and Casino: Money in the Real Las Vegas
      (pp. 307-334)

      Martin Scorsese’s 1994 filmCasinoopens with a ball of flame. Sam “Ace” Rothstein, the character created from the life of the former Stardust casino headman Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, played by Robert De Niro, strides authoritatively out of Tony Roma’s restaurant on Sahara Avenue near the Strip and across the parking lot to his Cadillac. He enters the car, turns the ignition, and KABOOM! A human in flames hurtles out of the driver’s seat, preceded by a blown-off door.

      As Rothstein writhes on the ground and the camera pulls away, Joe Pesci, who plays Nicki Santoro, closely modeled on the...

    • Who Puts the “Sin” in “Sin City” Stories? Girls of Grit and Glitter in the City of Women
      (pp. 335-346)

      Las Vegas is a city of stories. Stories of a lush green valley in the desert with little more than a ranch and a railroad stop that was turned into the world’s most notorious twentieth-century city; celebrity stories about Bugsy Siegel, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis; origin stories about the birth of a neon resort dreamland from the vice-ridden loins of the mob; stories of decadence, delirious riches, and debt; fantasy stories of love, lust, and loss; old stories about money, sex, power, and artifice, all are intimately interconnected with new stories of families, suburban growth, Little League sports, churches, and...

    • Nevada Goes Global: The Foreign Gaming Rule and the Spread of Casinos
      (pp. 347-362)

      In 1993, I got a call from Jack Binion’s secretary asking if I could come to the Horseshoe Casino and meet with him. I said, “Of course,” and we set up an appointment. When I met Jack, the son of the legendary Benny Binion and CEO of the Horseshoe, famous for its “World Series of Poker,” he told me: “I saw you on that Culinary Union video and I didn’t like the way you appeared to be speaking for the union.” I said, “If you listened to my words, it was clear I was being neutral on labor issues.” He...

    • Canto: Las Vegas
      (pp. 363-376)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 377-378)
  10. Index
    (pp. 379-388)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 389-389)