One More Ace Up His Sleeve

When a publishing empire wasn’t enough, Cardoza tackled fiction with a gambler’s steely focus

Cardoza Publishing is the world’s largest publisher of gaming books, and the adjacent building, the Gambler’s Book Club, is the world’s largest bookstore devoted to gaming books. But the unassuming compound on Eastern Avenue near the airport reveals none of that. It looks like the converted residence it is. You’ll pass it a hundred times before you notice it once.

Avery Cardoza, 54, is the Brooklyn native with thinning hair and an easy manner who runs the show. The book publisher is also an entrepreneur, traveler, editor and graphic designer. He’s a blackjack player whose talent has gotten him banned from casinos, and he’s put out a video game, Avery Cardoza’s Casino, which sold more than 1 million copies. Cardoza is also the most prolific Las Vegas author you’ve probably never heard of, with a string of gambling books dating back to 1981. “I didn’t know how to write,” the author of 26 nonfiction works says of his start in the business, “but I knew the difference between good writing and bad writing. I was a good reader.”

After conquering that niche, with books such as Winning Casino Blackjack for the Non-Counter, Cardoza set his eyes on a larger prize: fiction. It took 10 years, two failed attempts and 13 drafts. But he did it. This fall, Cardoza released a novel, Lost in Las Vegas.

“Thank God that’s over,” he says. “The experience of me writing this book was miserable. Every second of it.”

Here’s one example of said misery:

Traveling the world on the proceeds of his first books, Cardoza installed himself in a hut on a Greek island, intending to write a novel. But he made the mistake of bringing Gone With the Wind for inspiration. It had the opposite effect. “I stopped writing,” he says. “My stuff was crap by comparison.”

Cardoza eventually learned not to compare himself to classic authors. “I have tunnel vision,” he says. “If I am going to get something done, only reality is going to stop me.” His talent, apparently, is bulling his way to success. That’s how he dragged Lost in Las Vegas into print.

If you never pick up a copy of Lost in Las Vegas, it won’t matter to Cardoza, at least financially. All writers want their books to be loved and lauded, but he’s in the unique position of not having to convince the publisher of its worth, because he is the publisher. That’s one way to measure success.

Another is his stewardship of the Gambler’s Book Club, which he bought last year and saved from extinction. The club was founded in 1964 by the aptly named John and Edna Luckman, and for decades was the repository for books on everything from casino management to the Mafia. John died in 1987, Edna in 2002. Cardoza says the store was in decline when he took over, its shelves empty, its carpets worn and its downtown location on 11th Street becoming less and less appealing to customers. “I walked five feet into that store and I knew they were in trouble,” he says.

Cardoza’s version of the store has wood floors, fully stocked shelves and 3,000 titles available there or online. It’s a bright, inviting space conducive to browsing.

Now with the bookstore rescued and a novel written, Cardoza is turning his attention to yet another form of media: gambling TV, with content produced in his in-house studio. The pain of writing fiction is fading, he says, so don’t rule out a second Cardoza novel in the future.

“I think I’ve forgotten what I went through,” he says. “You get over stuff. I guess I’m very good at doing things I don’t like to do.”

Lost in Las Vegas: a mini review

Although Cardoza says he’s not a character in the book, his protagonists are clearly adherents to the gut-it-out school of getting along. John Howard-Hughes and Ludo Garcia are Brooklyn schlubs who just want a fun vacation. Lost in Las Vegas follows the duo through three days of what has to be the worst trip since The Hangover. The book quickly becomes a slog through rundown locals casinos and off-Strip hotels filled with miscreants, criminals and losers.

These depictions of hardscrabble Las Vegas are the best part of the book. Cardoza wanted to give readers a tour of the downside Sin City, the part of town where people “don’t sleep in beds made for them, or have feather pillows,” he says. But at 413 pages, it’s too long by half. Scenes tend to drag on after they’ve ceased imparting any narrative drive.

Cardoza wrote, designed and edited the book. It’s that last part where problems creep in. It’s hard to kill your own babies.

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