Education: Miami University, Oxford, OH, B.A.
Home—Santa Barbara, CA.
Best Reporting Story, Sporting News, 1984, for story on Mary Lou Retton's gold medal performance in gymnastics at the Olympic Games.
Jackpot Nation: Rambling and Gambling across Our Landscape of Luck, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.
Richard Hoffer is a longtime sports writer well respected by his peers and critics. Noting Hoffer's reputation as a top-notch reporter on boxing, Mark Mulvoy wrote in Sports Illustrated: "In addition to his news coverage of the sweet science, he filed stories on subjects ranging from the death of Mickey Mantle to disabled athletes, from Tony Gwynn to … the offspring of dynasty-era UCLA basketball players to the sky surfers and street lugers at the inaugural Extreme Games."
In his first book, A Savage Business: The Comeback and Comedown of Mike Tyson, Hoffer begins his story of boxing legend Mike Tyson in 1995, right after Tyson leaves an Indiana jail after serving time for rape. The author goes on to chronicle Tyson's time under the influence of boxing promoter Don King. In a review in Sports Illustrated, Charles Hirshberg noted that "this behind-the-scenes narrative of ‘the comeback and comedown of Mike Tyson’ is about much more," adding: "It is a reflection of America from a most unflattering angle. Never has the nation looked more like Sodom and Gomorrah."
Overall, the author chronicles the 135 million dollars made by the boxer through a series of fights culminating in a loss to Evander Holyfield, in which Tyson infamously bit off a portion of Holyfield's ear. Tyson was subsequently suspended from professional boxing for a time. Hoffer also provides an in-depth profile of promoter Don King, who was able to pump up Tyson's image and earnings even though the boxer was obviously past his prime. At the time, King had control of all three branches of the heavyweight crown, and he arranged for Tyson to fight a series of relatively easy bouts until the big match with Holyfield. Other topics include the underside of boxing, such as the casinos that compete for the few desirable fights and dates, the television networks, and some of the promoters. "This lively account … is that rare thing in celebrity-driven publishing: the thoughtful, readable quickie book," reported Nathan Ward in the Library Journal.
The author's next book, Jackpot Nation: Rambling and Gambling across Our Landscape of Luck, was called a "highly readable and informative work" by Library Journal contributor Kristin Whitehair. This time Hoffer looks at the people who together bet eighty million dollars a year on everything from Las Vegas casino games and slot machines to sports betting to celebrity games of chance, such as betting on which of the Olson twins of television fame marry first. The author details how gambling has become ubiquitous, moving far beyond Las Vegas, state lotteries, and local bookies taking bets on sporting events. Jodi Mitchell, writing in the School Library Journal, commented that Hoffer "theorizes that the pioneer spirit is so ingrained in the … American psyche that we can't help being a nation of risk takers."
The author relates that Americans, as he sees them, are adventurers at heart and people who like to take a chance. Traveling throughout the United States, Hoffer gambles with fellow Americans on everything from a side of bacon in a Minnesota bar to Las Vegas games. He even profiles someone in a New York prison cell. Writing in the first chapter about Las Vegas, the author noted: "So, here we begin, as most people have, in Las Vegas. This is gambling's ground zero, its fertile crescent, where the riotous search for destiny first sprang to life. This has to be the starting line for our race across the country, chasing luck all the way. Where else? Las Vegas is the birthplace of modern gambling, the not-so-little town that was a mythological place long before it was a cheap tourist destination. Now, as institutionalized as it ever was romanticized, it remains the original arbiter of outlaw justice, its ability to sort through losers and winners as unquestioned as ever."
Hoffer uncovers more than just a tale of joyful chance-taking, noting that many of the institutions once used to regulate gambling are now among its largest promoters, including government and religious and business institutions. As the author points out, numbers rackets have become state lotteries, and casinos have gone from being owned by the mob to being run by Fortune 500 companies. "Hoffer's knack of elevating himself above the din and roar—like an observer of some bizarre, sometimes out of control circus—and his way with words, makes this a fast, easy read," according to Howard Schwartz in the Casino City Times online. Schwartz added that the author is "right on target about government hypocrisy and his distaste for the never-ending march of the ‘pleasure police’ in dictating what recreational escapes Americans should be allowed to participate in." David Pitt, writing in Booklist, called Jackpot Nation "an insightful overview of a significant aspect of contemporary popular culture."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Hoffer, Richard, Jackpot Nation: Rambling and Gambling across Our Landscape of Luck, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.
Booklist, February 1, 2007, David Pitt, review of Jackpot Nation, p. 16.
Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Nathan Ward, review of A Savage Business: The Comeback and Comedown of Mike Tyson, p. 92; April 1, 2007, Kristin Whitehair, review of Jackpot Nation, p. 105.
School Library Journal, June, 2007, Jodi Mitchell, review of Jackpot Nation, p. 182.
Spectator, March 14, 1998, Michael Carlson, review of A Savage Business, p. 37.
Sport, April, 1998, review of A Savage Business, p. 28.
Sports Illustrated, December 18, 1995, Mark Mulvoy, "To Our Readers," p. 8; February 9, 1998, Charles Hirshberg, review of A Savage Business, p. 26.
Casino City Times,http://schwartz.casinocitytimes.com/ (April 13, 2008), Howard Schwartz, review of Jackpot Nation.
HarperCollins Web site,http://www.harpercollins.com/ (March 14, 2007), brief author profile.