We’ve already looked at the influence of casinos on literature, but their presence in the movies is even more palpable. This is hardly surprising when you consider just how cinematic most casinos on screen are.
From the dice bouncing down a craps table in slow motion, surrounded by eager players, to that little white ball whizzing around the roulette wheel, movies featuring casino games offer directors endless opportunities for tension and drama, developing characters and driving the plot.
These days many players have never set foot in a real casino, with online apps, such as Unibet Casino, providing all the thrills for a fraction of the price from the comfort of home. Yet we all recognize the style and sophistication of the casino floor, with its regular cast such as the high roller, the lucky girlfriend, the slick croupier, and the burly security guy.
Add in the plucky underdog, the hustler who thinks he can beat the system and the down-on-her-luck hostess, and you have all the characters you need to tell any kind of story, from spy thriller to heist romp.
As the most visual and visceral of all casino games, roulette is also the most cinematic, leading to a huge number of famous roulette movies. Even if you don’t know the game well, you can still see who has bet on what. Better still, you instantly know who has won or lost when the ball lands in their slot or bounces out dramatically at the last second.
James Bond famously plays black 17 on the roulette table in Diamonds are Forever, while Black 22 is the number that Rick recommends that the young couple play on Casablanca’s rigged table. Inspired by the same film, Albert Brooks and his wife, Julie Hagerty, also bet on black 22 in Lost in America, only to lose without Rick’s all-important nod to the croupier to fix the result.
Playing Craps in movies
Just like roulette, craps offers a lot to the camera, and the viewer, with the dynamic action of the bouncing dice and the layout of the table, surrounded by players and hangers-on. You don’t need to understand craps betting to know who’s winning because the reaction of the crowd will soon tell you. Unlike card games, there are no poker faces here, just thrilled winners and devastated losers.
Craps features in several major movies, from Marlon Brando trying to win the love of his life in Guys and Dolls, to George Clooney trying to win back a casino in Oceans 13. When Demi Moore turns out to be lady luck with the dice for Robert Redford in Indecent Proposal, it starts a complex series of events between her and her husband, Woody Harrelson.
Cards on film
While games like roulette and craps lend themselves easily to movies, card games can be a bit more complicated. 2018 movie, Molly’s Game, followed the fortunes of real-life poker game hostess, Molly Bloom, as she arranged illegal card games for famous stars and Wall St moneymen. Although the film used innovative graphics to show the different hands, it was still a struggle for viewers to understand what was happening.
Simpler card games make much better cinema, and the simplest of them all is blackjack. Everyone can see the cards and know who is closest to 21, so the game doesn’t get in the way of the action.
Famous blackjack movies include Licence to Kill, Casino, and Croupier, which uniquely showed the game from the dealer’s point of view. Blackjack card counting is also a popular movie trope, with everything from Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man to 21, the story of the MIT maths team who beat the casinos at their own game.
From Ocean’s 8, 11, 12, and 13 to the gritty and violent world of Casino, from James Bond to Molly Bloom, casino games have had a huge influence on movies down the years. And with both the gaming and cinema industries growing all the time, it’s a safe bet that this winning streak will continue for a long time.