Gambling served as inspiration for various works of art, including paintings, music, and, more than anything, movies. Hollywood movies portray gambling either very positively or very negatively, but the question is, how accurate are these? Let’s analyze some of the famous films and see if it is all fiction or reality!
Being such a lucrative theme, gambling has been approached from many different angles when it comes to movies, but some themes stand out:
Pathological gambling in Hollywood movies
Pathological gambling appears quite often in casino-themed movies. While some tackle the problem in a very accurate way, some do not. In addition, some of these have an irresponsibly happy ending. Here are some excellent examples from each type:
- The Great Sinner (1949) – presents the story of a man who gets addicted to gambling from the very first spin of a Roulette wheel;
- Fever Pitch (1985) – accurately portrays pathological gambling but the ending of the movie is a happy one;
- Owning Mahowny (2003) – a movie based on the true story of a Toronto banker who finances his gambling addiction through embezzled money. In the end, he goes through a trial and goes to prison.
There are many other examples of such movies. As you can see, some accurately depict pathological gambling, but they do not give any explanation or background on the matter. In others, such as The Great Sinner, the story is exaggerated and sped up because it is unrealistic to think someone can become addicted to gambling from the first spin of a Roulette wheel.
Gambling addiction is a severe problem determined by various factors and which develops in time. This time may be shorter for some gamblers, as they may be psychologically prone to impulsivity and obsessive behaviour, but it never develops instantly.
Probably the most problematic type in this category is the one where movies have a happy ending. While this is rarely the case for pathological players, promoting this idea does not help the fight against gambling addiction and may inspire problem gamblers to aim for such a success instead of gambling responsibly.
The professional gambler 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 such movies:
- Rain Man (1988) – the famous Rain Man movie shows the story of a man with autism whose unique gift is to flawlessly count cards and win casino games;
- Rounders (1998) – this movie presents a highly-skilled Poker player who is almost always able to guess their opponent hand;
- Two for the Money (2005) – the story of a sports betting tout who, in the first half of the movie, shows an incredible ability to pick winners.
While these movies are undoubtedly interesting and the exaggeration of the main characters’ talents and abilities add to the story, they have nothing to do with reality. Real professional casino games players have plenty of practice to be able to participate in high-level competitions. Regardless, not even the best players have almost magical abilities to tell their 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 likes a happy ending, but these casino-themed movies pick a quite unlikely ending – the miraculous win:
- The Cooler (2003) – this movie shows the story of a man who seems to only have 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 on a spree and then manages to win back his losses and save his relationship;
- Stealing Harvard (2002) – after unsuccessfully trying to steal the money he needs to pay for his niece’s education, a man manages to win all of it by betting at the racetrack.
Games of luck can surely be unpredictable, and it is possible to hit a big win when you just started playing or simply when you least expect it. However, the way the situation is presented in these movies and others alike is greatly exaggerated. This may lead viewers to have distorted expectations about gambling or enable problem gamblers to chase their losses.
Chasing losses is one of the worst things one can do when gambling. However, in Fever Pitch, it is depicted as the best option since it turned out to be in favour of the character. In reality, however, chasing losses most often ends up in more losses, and it creates even more problems for the pathological gambler.
All gamblers are addicts and criminals
While in some movies, gambling is shown as a fun activity that brings players financial advantages, this is not the case for all of them. Here are some films that portray gamblers in a very negative way:
- Two for the Money (2005) – we’ve mentioned this movie in the category of films with casino players that show incredible skills. However, another strong theme is the negative view on gamblers. The main character is told to “reel them in” and that they are “hooked”;
- Croupier (2000) – in this film, the main character is judging the players and viewing them all as addicts or cheats. He calls the casino itself a “house of addiction”, and he thinks all that players do is ignore the odds and not face reality. He concludes that gamblers do not want to destroy themselves, but everyone else;
- Casino (1995) – one of the best gambling movies of all time according to Casinobonusca’s ranking, in Casino, all the players are depicted as criminals, addicts, and degenerates. DeNiro’s character, Sam “Ace” Rothstein, tells us that players don’t stand a chance and that the casinos are the only winners.
Gambling is a fun activity for everyone, regardless of their social status, education level, or job. If you walk into a Las Vegas casino, you may meet regular people as well as politicians and celebrities. Also, most gamblers are not addicted to gambling and manage to keep it as a leisure activity. Even more, gambling addiction develops because of irresponsible gambling and being psychologically prone to impulsivity. This means it can happen to anyone, but it is not always the case.
This approach in movies is definitely not accurate, and while it may help discourage gambling, especially for at-risk players, it also contributes to the stigma they face. Many regular 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
The casino players are not the only ones portrayed in a negative light in Hollywood movies, but owners and operators as well. Here are some examples:
- Casino (1995) – this is one of the best examples since it shows both gangster involvement in the casino and the operators appear to be degenerates and criminals;
- Walking Tall (2004) – the story of a man who returns to his hometown only to find a corrupt casino owner now controls it. He is also cheating by using loaded dice to get more money from the customers;
- The Godfather (1972) – the famous movie follows the story of the Corleone family, who is part of the Mafia and owns multiple 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 movies, such as Casino and The Godfather, are partially based on real events and accurately depict the organized crime 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 make both owners and players look like criminals or frauds. Some of them are inspired by true stories, but things have massively improved since the early days of gambling. However, movies have to be entertaining and fun to watch, so exaggerating certain aspects is part of the vision.