HIGH STAKES: Inside the New Las Vegas by Gary Provost (Truman Talley/Dutton: $23.95; 320 pp.) If you build it they will come. They did, and they do. They are building it so fast, the "new Las Vegas," and they are coming in such numbers that Gary Provost's book went out of date between writing and publishing. The spectacular, garish, pyramidal Luxor; the exuberant free-show-an-hour Treasure Island; the new MGM Grand, biggest hotel in the world (they had to buy an adjacent golf course to fit it in)--all have opened since Provost's deadline, and all support his overriding theme: This is the Age of Total Entertainment, and despite proliferation of gambling across the United States, Vegas is six or seven years ahead of anybody else, Disney included. As MGM CEO Robert Maxey says, "We can turn this place from being a gambling town to the great American vacation spot" (with gambling, of course), to which Provost appends: "The old Las Vegas, if it is not dying, is at least sucking serious wind."
As near as any book on Mach-3 Vegas can be, Provost's is timely, observant, somewhat visionary and funny. (Circus Circus chief Bill Bennett on a dreaded fundamentalist convention: "They came with the Ten Commandments in one hand and a 10-dollar bill in the other and they didn't break either one.") Coming close to total entertainment himself, Provost observes the metamorphosis of the city from Mob to Mickey, gives a history of the games (the roulette ball used to be a live, if dizzy, mouse), tells us why rooms and meals are so cheap (a $4 steak will run you $54 after you navigate the casino en route to the restaurant), and explains, not that he needs to, why we gamble: "Not as good as sex, but better than peanut-butter pie."