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Publisher's Summary

Jay Sarno built two path-breaking Las Vegas casinos, Caesars Palace (1966) and Circus Circus (1968), and planned but did not build a third, the Grandissimo, which would have started the mega-resort era a decade before Steve Wynn built The Mirage. As mobsters and accountants battled for the soul of the last American frontier town, Las Vegas had endless possibilities - if you didn't mind high stakes and stiff odds. Sarno invented the modern Las Vegas casino, but he was part of a dying breed - a back-pocket entrepreneur who'd parlayed a jones for action and a few Teamster loans into a life as a Vegas casino owner.

For all of his accomplishments, his empire didn't last. Sarno sold out of Caesars Palace shortly after it opened - partially to get away from the bookies and gangsters who'd taken over the casino - and he was forced to relinquish control of Circus Circus when the federal government indicted him on charges of offering the largest bribe in IRS history - a bribe he freely admitted paying, on the advice of his attorney, Oscar Goodman. Though he ultimately walked out of court a free man, he never got Circus back. And though he guessed the formula that would open up Las Vegas to millions in the 1990s with the design of the Grandissimo, but he wasn't able to secure the financing for the casino, and when he died in 1984, it remained only a frustrating dream.

Sarno's casinos - and his ideas about how to build casinos - created the template for Las Vegas today. Before him, Las Vegas meant dealers in string ties and bland, functional architecture. He taught the city how to dress up its hotels in fantasy, putting toga dresses on cocktail waitresses and making sure that even the stationery carried through with the theme. He saw Las Vegas as a place where ordinary people could leave their ordinary lives and have extraordinary adventures. And that remains the template for Las Vegas today.

©2013 David G. Schwartz (P)2014 David G. Schwartz

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  • Andrew
  • NAPERVILLE, IL, United States
  • 09-08-14

Great Listen - Thanks to Dr. Dave

Would you consider the audio edition of Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas to be better than the print version?

I find print version slightly superior, I read it prior to purchasing it on Audible However, it is great to see the nuances that I missed the first time through.

What other book might you compare Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas to and why?

Grandissimo was what Super Casino by Pete Earley could have been had Earley had the passion for Las Vegas that David Schwartz displays. After reading Super Casino I always wondered about this Jay Sarno guy, he seemed far more interesting that Bill Bennett and William Pennington. To finally get the whole story and find out the truth - not that Jay Sarno died after a night of satisfying a dozen prostitutes - allowed a much broader view of how ahead of his time Jay really was, and the fact that had Jay not been a "hotel man" Las Vegas would not be place it is today.

What about Eric Martin’s performance did you like?

I thought Eric Martin did a very good job, however some details and pauses made it seem a bit over the top.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

There is so much information you can't really make it though in one sitting but is certainly a book I will listen to over and over.

Any additional comments?

I can't wait to see what Dr. David Schwartz does next!

10 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Fun and informative

I enjoyed every second of this one. I would never have guessed on the origins of this city but this book puts it all neatly into place.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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interesting story and well to do

I was interested in learning about Sarno and the history he had with LV. I enjoyed the readers storytelling style and he made the book very enjoyable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Behind All the Glitz

A very interesting story that was largely new information to me about a man, who wasn't very nice, had few scruples and no redeeming characteristics, but did have creative vision. He reminded me of a bull dozer that would run down any one in his way. Well told and delivered without fan fare thereby letting the main character, Jay Sarno, speak for himself.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Never knew Vegas history

Very interesting book, I'll never look at Vegas the same way again. I have no idea how these guys ever juggled family life... Their infidelities would never fly with me:)!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Amazing.

This story was incredible. As a Las Vegas fan I knew about all of the usual suspects of early Vegas but didn't know much about Sarno, boy was I missing out. The only weakness in this is the narrator. He was ok but not great.

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Interesting but no big idea about casino business

Interesting story with overview of people in this industry but no clear vision about how casino business run.

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The Start of Las Vegas

If you could sum up Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas in three words, what would they be?

Inspired, generous, driven

What was one of the most memorable moments of Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas?

His never ending drive and determination to do what he wanted done and how exactly he wanted it done.

Which character – as performed by Eric Martin – was your favorite?

The main one, of course.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

His response to his Daughter when she was concerned about her inheritance and how he was spending his money.

Any additional comments?

I did not think I was going to enjoy this as much as I did. Kept my interest and was insightful not only in his life but also in the growth of Las Vegas.

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Jay Sarno - the man who created Las Vegas

I have always loved Las Vegas. Now I know who to thank posthumously. The story is presented as grandiose as the colorful character it portrays.
It's presentation as a documentarian story of the mind and man who envisioned the creation of the grandissimo "Disney " style casino is fascinating. It never lost my attention.
I traveled with the story through the life of Jay Sarno with envy, respect and gratitude.
Las Vegas is a unique compelling city and so is the story of Jay Jackson Sarno.

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A Study of a Peculiar, but Unique Human Being

Any additional comments?

I purchased "Grandissimo" because I was interested in a history of Las Vegas. I got that, in a way.

What I was not bargaining for was an in-depth study of a man who did the impossible. With little more than guile and relentless hard work, one man built two of the biggest hotel casinos in Las Vegas. The book goes into fairly good detail as to how this was managed.

The point is continually made that despite having strengths and weaknesses (which we all have) Sarno was simply larger than life. He seemed to constantly need money but he also constantly wasted money. He 'coerced' friends and relatives out of funds for his projects, yet played golf with people for money even when he knew they were cheating him. The issues surrounding the personality of this one-of-a-kind person are almost endless in this book, and it is remarkable to listen to. It is also a pleasure to listen to, as the narration is first-rate.