The show revolves around the activities of a real pawn shop, Gold & Silver Pawn. Drive down Las Vegas Blvd toward the downtown area and after you pass the Stratosphere you'll eventually see it on the right side. Due to the popularity of the show, you may find it difficult to find a place to park. Once you do park you'll have to stand in line to get in if you're just a tourist (but the guard will let you through if you've got something to pawn or you're redeeming an item already pawned). The truth is that the shop is very small, but the family is working on enlarging it.
Anyway, let me address some of the previous comments. Every time I've visited the shop the entire family was there but obviously they must leave to tape the segments that take place at other locations.
And yes, the segments involving high ticket items involve some pre-arranging. The camera crews aren't going to stand around all day waiting for a rare item to be brought in.
Most importantly, there is a total misconception and lack of understanding about the fact that the place "rips off" everyone.
Let's say you walk in with a rare Tuba that you believe was played in Sousa's famous band around the turn of the century. People bring in items that they assume are authentic because their grandfather told them it was. Very often it turns out their grandfather lied.
The bottom line is that 99% of the sellers have no authentication or documentation to back up their item. This immediately makes your item worth a fraction of what a documented item would be worth. Buying something without any supporting documentation puts the entire risk on the pawn shop. If it turns out to be phony (or stolen), they lose all the money they paid you for it. A company can only take a big risk if there is a potential for a big reward. As you've seen on the show, they get burned occasionally, too.
This brings us to the various experts -- my favorite part of the show. At best, these experts can only state that they THINK an item is authentic. They will usually say something like "It might bring $5000 at auction." You'll notice, however, that they never give anyone a written appraisal. It's just a blue sky number which you as an individual would have almost zero chance of getting. Here's why...
Speciality auctions for rare items occur very infrequently due to the time involved in getting enough items, promoting the auction to potential buyers, finding an appropriate location for the auction, getting items shipped to them, preparing and printing catalogs, etc.
But you don't KNOW anything, remember? That's why you're standing in a pawn shop with a blank look on your face. If you knew some Tuba collectors, knew about auction houses, wanted to pay for a costly appraisal, were willing to wait months or years for a rare musical instrument auction... well, you MAY be able to sell it yourself.
The other problem that the collectors and auction houses don't know YOU -- and they'd be very unlikely to accept a unauthenticated piece from an unknown seller. It's a closed loop and you're not in it. And even if you are lucky enough to get your Tuba into an auction, it might sell for $500, not $5000. That's how auctions work. Big risk.
So now the Pawn Stars ask you how much you want for your allegedly rare Tuba. You of course say $5000 because that's the number you heard from the expert. But that's just a fantasy number a collector might pay in a highly specialized auction that may never take place. The risk is all on the Pawn Stars to sell the item and make a PROFIT.
The guys might get lucky and quickly find a collector who will buy it, or they might never find a buyer. The shop takes a big risk and must have a chance of making a big profit, knowing that it still might be a fake. They also factor in whether that type of item is currently in demand or not and if they personally know potential buyers.
That's why they are going to offer you a much lower amount than $5000. It's a business, folks. If you don't like their offer you can just thank them and leave. But you need cash now, right? Take the money!
Then go to the casinos and get rich at blackjack or slot machines!
I'd just like to add that I would have rated this show a 10 but it has no hot-looking babes in it! Hey, it's Vegas, guys. Where's the cleavage?