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September 2, 2011
By Claudene Wharton
A new book, written by two University of Nevada, Reno social work professors, is a perfect Labor Day read, giving an in-depth look into the lives of women working in Nevada casinos and serving to remind why the national holiday exists.
Casino Women: Courage in Unexpected Places, written by Susan Chandler and Jill B. Jones, is based on extended interviews the two had with women working in a wide variety of jobs in Nevada’s casinos from the 1950s to the present. They talked with maids, dealers, cocktail waitresses, cooks, laundry workers, pit bosses and vice presidents.
The book, 10 years in the making, tells of the struggles and victories of women such as Nicaraguan immigrant Geoconda Arguello Kline, who found work in Las Vegas as a hotel maid and later helped to build one of the most powerful unions in the nation, the 60,000-member Culinary Union. She eventually became its president. Kline, like many other women profiled in the book, overcame initial fear and low self-esteem, to help win economic and political power for tens of thousands of working Nevadans.
The book also tells of other women casino workers, some of them dealers and middle managers. Chandler and Jones examine the factors that led some women to activism and kept others in silence.
“Sometimes, the women just felt stuck,” Chandler explained. “They were embarrassed and felt there was no way out. They felt they just had to accept and endure the industry’s very poor working conditions.”
Chandler and Jones take on some of the working conditions of the casinos, from the past and present, which are not without controversy. Among them, the issue of the tremendous amount of smoking in the casinos and its possible health effects on those who work in the casinos.
“We know that there are some topics we tackle in this book that will still ruffle some feathers,” Chandler said. “But we felt it important to explore them anyway.”
Chandler, currently associate professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Jones, associate professor emeritus, tell their stories in an engaging style. The book is a quick read that should appeal to anyone interested in women’s issues, working-class life, the gaming industry, and stories of the underdog team winning with a last-minute field goal.
The 240-page book was released this week, published by ILR Press, an Imprint of Cornell University Press.