12/11/2002 1:00AM

A little-known but potent advocate for gamblers


Over the past two weeks, the late November deaths of bookmaker Sonny Reizner, casino owner Ralph Engelstad, and doughnut king Verne Winchell have been well documented. And rightly so, considering their vast accomplishments that kept them in the public eye.

However, the media hasn't given the same attention to the passing of Edna Luckman, who died last Tuesday of heart failure. She was 79.

Luckman and her husband, John (who died in 1987), did more for the everyday gambler than anyone else I can think of. And they did it without a lot of fanfare.

The Luckmans moved to Las Vegas from California in the late 1950's. John was working as a blackjack dealer and the couple's conversations often revolved around how uninformed gamblers were and how there was so few how-to books to educate the public on the rules of the games and proper gambling etiquette.

They started publishing a series of books, including "The Facts of Craps" and "The Facts of Blackjack." The books were sold in hotel gift shops, but casino owners pulled them off the shelves.

"Their initial relationship with the casinos was adversarial," said Howard Schwartz, longtime marketing director and manager of the store. "The casinos were afraid that they would lose money if everyone was taught about money management and how to play the games.

"The casinos finally realized that books are good because they create customers, and educated players are repeat customers. Before, people might stand around if they were intimidated by casino games. John and Edna were right originally."

In 1964, they started the Gambler's Book Club on Main Street with just a few books, and then moved it to its current location of 630 S. 11th Street (just north of Charleston) in 1975. It is now called the Gambler's Book Shop, though locals still refer to it as the GBC, and it carries thousands of gambling titles.

"They wanted a place where gamblers could feel comfortable, in a store where they could discuss theories and angles," Schwartz said. "They were a friend of the players, and a friend of [other] authors."

The Luckmans were also consumer advocates. During the mail-order craze of the 1970's, when a lot of questionable material started popping up, they published "Systems and Methods," a newsletter that would, as Schwartz says, "expose systems that were for sale for $40 to $200 that weren't worth four cents."

The GBC has published 137 books over the years, and gave a start to many aspiring writers. In the horse racing genre, they published James Quinn's first book, "Handicapper's Condition Book"; one of the first books on pace, "Race is Pace" by Huey Mahl; and also revived the 1908 classic, "Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburgh Phil."

Schwartz said just about every gambling author has visited the GBC, including Andy Beyer, Tom Ainslie, Tom Brohamer, and Howard Sartin. Schwartz said Beyer would bypass invitations from larger bookstores in order to do book signings at the intimate GBC.

Edna Luckman, who served as the GBC's bookkeeper for 38 years, preferred to stay in the background and let her little shop speak for itself.

Before her death, Luckman made arrangements for the store to continue long after she was gone. And that's something for which all gamblers - both local and those customers all over the world who order books through gamblersbook.com - can be grateful.

Services for Luckman will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Paradise Memorial Gardens Chapel at 6200 S. Eastern Ave. Donations in her name can be made to the Kidney Foundation or the Animal Foundation.

Vegas news and notes

In another change in the older part of Las Vegas, gambling pioneer Jackie Gaughan, 82, has agreed to sell four of his downtown properties (Las Vegas Club, Gold Spike, Western Hotel, and the Plaza) for $82 million to Barrick Gaming, which is entering the Nevada market after having minority interests in gaming operations throughout the country. The deal is pending Barrick's being licensed by gaming regulators, which could take up to a year.

But the Gaughan name won't be gone from the casino landscape. Jackie Gaughan retains ownership of El Cortez and his son, Michael, is the owner of Coast Casinos (Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, Suncoast, and The Orleans).

* Down near the Strip, the world's largest topless club is set to open Friday at midnight. Sapphire is on the site of the former Sporting House athletic club, just behind the Stardust, and has undergone $25 million in renovations to the 70,000-square-foot complex that will feature up to 300 dancers per night. Sapphire is in direct competition with the 25,000-square-foot Jaguars club that opened in June on Procyon Street, just west of the Strip.

* The city of Las Vegas is planning to require exotic dancers to be licensed. Currently, they only have to pay $35 for a work card that must be renewed every five years. The new plan, which is estimated to generate an additional $150,000 per year for the city, would call for a $150 fee for a background check and $150 per year for a dancer's license.

Football contest updates

A contestant going under the alias RG Sports #II went 4-1 to move into first place in the Gambler's Challenge at Station Casinos. RG Sports #II has 46 points based on a record of 45-23-2 and has a two-game lead on former leader Roland Phillips, who is 44-26. The Stations also has a mini contest over the last four weeks of the season, and another entry from the overall leader (RG Sports #III) is in a four-way tie for first place with a 5-0 mark over the weekend.

* C.C.5 went 3-2 to move into a first-place tie with I Walk a Beat in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest. C.C.5 is 45-33-2 while I Walk a Beat is 46-34, but they both are credited with 46 points. Ghost is in third with 45 points.

* Mike Lee of Jim Feist Sports and Rudy Ruettiger of Notre Dame fame will face off Friday in the semifinals of the Stardust Invitational at 9 p.m. in the sports book (also broadcast live in nine western states on KDWN AM-720). The winner will advance to next Friday's $10,000 winner-take-all championship match against Sporting News Radio national host "Papa" Joe Chevalier, who went 6-1 with a best-bet winner (Raiders -3 over the Chargers) in his second straight appearance at the Stardust. Andy Iskoe was the victim, who lost despite going 5-2 with a best-bet winner (also the Raiders). But Iskoe had a consolation prize, as he went 4-1 in the SuperContest over the weekend to move into a four-way tie for sixth place. His alias is Little Awful Andy.