The game has served as inspiration for various works of art, including paintings, music, and most of all, movies. Hollywood movies portray the game either very positively or very negatively, but the question is, how accurate are they? Let’s analyze some of the famous movies and see if it’s just fiction or reality!
Being such a lucrative theme, the game has been approached from many different angles when it comes to movies, but there are some themes that stand out:
Pathological gambling in Hollywood films
Pathological gambling appears quite often in casino-themed movies. While some approach the problem very precisely, others do not. Plus, some of them have irresponsible and happy endings. Here are some great examples of each type:
- The Great Sinner (1949) – presents the story of a man who becomes addicted to the game from the first spin of a roulette wheel;
- Fever Pitch (1985) – accurately depicts pathological gambling but the end of the film is happy;
- Owning Mahowny (2003) – a film based on the true story of a Toronto banker who finances his gambling addiction with embezzled money. In the end, he goes through a trial and goes to jail.
There are many other examples of such films. As you can see, there are some that accurately describe pathological gambling, but they don’t give any explanation or context for it. In others, like The Great Sinner, the story is exaggerated and accelerated because it is unrealistic to think that someone can become addicted to the game from the first spin of a roulette wheel.
Gambling addiction is a serious problem that is determined by various factors and develops over time. This time may be shorter for some players as they may be psychologically prone to impulsivity and obsessive behavior, but it never develops instantly.
Probably the most problematic type in this category is where movies end well. While this is seldom the case with pathological gamblers, promoting this idea does not help combat gambling addiction and may encourage problem gamblers to strive for such success instead of responsible gambling.
The professional player with incredible skills
A popular and entertaining theme is the professional gambler who uses almost magical skills to beat the casino and get rich overnight. Here are some of those movies:
- The Rain Man (1988) – the famous movie Rain Man shows the story of an autistic man whose unique gift is to perfectly count cards and to win at casino games;
- Curvy (1998) – this film features a highly skilled poker player who is almost always able to guess his opponent’s hand;
- Two for the money (2005) – the story of a sports betting organizer who, in the first half of the film, shows an incredible ability to choose the winners.
While these films are undoubtedly interesting, and the exaggeration of the talents and abilities of the main characters adds to the story, they have nothing to do with reality. Real professional casino game players have a lot of practice to be able to participate in high level competitions. Either way, even the best players don’t have almost magical abilities to say opponents’ hands or count cards.
The best card counter can only get a 1-2% edge over the house, so these cases are clearly an exaggeration.
Miraculous casino wins
Everyone loves a happy ending, but these casino-themed movies choose a pretty unlikely ending – the miraculous victory:
- The Cooler (2003) – this film shows the story of a man who seems to have nothing but bad luck. He works in a casino and his job is to “cool” the luck of winning players, but his own luck changes when he finds love;
- Fever Pitch (1985) – a pathological gambler goes mad then manages to regain his losses and save his relationship;
- Flying Harvard (2002) – after trying in vain to steal the money he needs to pay for his niece’s studies, a man manages to win everything by betting on the racetrack.
Gambling can surely be unpredictable, and it is possible to score a big win when you just start playing or just when you least expect it. However, the way the situation is presented in these films and others is greatly exaggerated. This can lead viewers to have distorted expectations about the game or allow problem gamblers to chase their losses.
Chasing losses is one of the worst things you can do when playing. However, in Fever Pitch he is described as the best option as he turned out to be in favor of the character. In reality, however, chasing losses more often than not results in more losses, and this creates even more problems for the pathological player.
All gamers are drug addicts and criminals
While in some films gambling is portrayed as a fun activity that brings financial benefits to players, this is not the case for everyone. Here are a few movies that portray gamers in a very negative light:
- Two for the money (2005) – we mentioned this movie in the category of movies with casino players showing amazing skills. However, another strong theme is the negative view of the players. The main character is told to “roll them up” and that they are “hung”;
- Croupier (2000) – in this film, the main character judges the players and considers them all to be drug addicts or cheaters. He calls the casino himself a “house of addiction,” and he thinks all players do is ignore the odds and face reality. He concludes that the players do not want to destroy each other, but everyone;
- Casino (1995) – one of the best gaming movies of all time according to the ranking of Casinobonusca, in Casino all the players are described as criminals, drug addicts and degenerates. DeNiro’s character, Sam “Ace” Rothstein, tells us that players don’t stand a chance and that casinos are the only winners.
Play is a fun activity for everyone, regardless of their social status, education level or job. If you walk into a Las Vegas casino, you can meet ordinary people as well as politicians and celebrities. Also, most gamers are not addicted to gambling and manage to keep it as a leisure activity. More so, gambling addiction develops due to irresponsible gambling and a psychological tendency towards impulsivity. This means that it can happen to anyone, but it doesn’t always happen.
This approach in the movies is certainly not accurate, and while it can help discourage gambling, especially for at-risk gamers, it also contributes to the stigma they face. Many ordinary people share the same views on casino players, which is why some problem gamblers are too ashamed to seek treatment and end up relapsing.
Casinos are run by organized crime
Not only casino players are portrayed negatively in Hollywood movies, but owners and operators as well. Here are some examples:
- Casino (1995) – this is one of the best examples because it shows both the involvement of gangsters in the casino and the operators seem to be degenerates and criminals;
- Growing Up on Foot (2004) – the story of a man who returns to his hometown to find that a corrupt casino owner is now in control. He also cheats by using loaded dice to get more money from customers;
- The Godfather (1972) – the famous film follows the story of the Corleone family, who are part of the mafia and have several casinos in Cuba and Las Vegas.
While organized crime has been involved in gambling businesses in the past, this is no longer the case. Some of these films, such as Casino and The Godfather, are in part based on actual events and accurately portray organized crime’s involvement in gambling in the past. However, nowadays companies run casinos and some have huge teams with employees in different countries.
In conclusion, there is an ambivalence when it comes to gambling in Hollywood movies: it is either portrayed as a classy, glamorous, and exciting activity, or they portray both owners and gamers as criminals or fraudsters. Some of these are based on true stories, but things have improved dramatically from the early days of the game. However, movies need to be entertaining and fun to watch, so overdoing some aspects is part of the vision.