Movies depict casinos and gambling with varying degrees of accuracy. In this article, we’ll take a look at how realistic the interpretation of the casino environment is in 5 widely acclaimed films.
How we rate
We’ll rate the authenticity of the scenes and implications about gambling they convey and organize the list from the most bogus to the most life-like interpretations. Each movie will receive a rating from 1-5 for its depiction of gambling.
While we focus our analysis on the accuracy of casino scenes, we want the reader to take our picks as watchable recommendations on any evening. That’s why we narrow our field of interest exclusively to the best depictions that can be appreciated for their true cinematographic worth.
You can’t go wrong with a box office smasher like Casino, deservedly reaching $116.1 million in gross profits. However, it’s surprising to see that a true modern masterpiece like Uncut Gems has come only to half that figure. You shouldn’t doubt the quality of it, though.
Casino Royale – featuring the most unrealistic card game round to date
Accuracy rating: 2
We kick off the list with the first of Daniel Craig’s James Bond movies and the fifth in the series, Casino Royale. The movie is named after the fictional French casino where the peak confrontation between Bond and the villain occurs.
Interestingly, this casino scene is the longest across all 25 James Bond movies. The poker battle is highly dramatized and displays some excellent acting. Still, inaccuracies are apparent with regards to gambling. The most obvious one is that, besides Bond and Le Chiffre, the rest of the players are pretty sketchy. However, since they are secondary characters without significant contributions to the plot, that’s understandable.
However, the most unrealistic gambling element in the movie is the round’s showdown. It’s mathematically improbable that all players at the table would end up with progressively stronger hands, in just the proper order so that Bond has the best hand.
Casino – a classic portrayal of the Mafia-run betting rings in 70s Las Vegas
Accuracy rating: 3
Even if you didn’t see Casino yet, you might remember the iconic opening scene where Robert de Niro is blown up when entering his car. Events like that were commonplace in the 70s Las Vegas when the Mafia imposed its rule with an iron hand and controlled a large portion of the Strip.
The movie Casino breathes authenticity. That’s why it became an instant classic and gathered such a following. It was inspired by the real-life story of a Mob-appointed casino manager, Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal. Most of the details you see are as accurate as they get. Casinos under Rosenthal’s supervision did operate without a gaming license, and he indeed survived a car bombing.
While the movie’s plot is a chillingly accurate depiction of actual events, the gambling world has changed a lot since the 70s. Now, you’ll have a hard time finding an unlicensed casino operating in plain view on the Vegas Strip. Moreover, the Mafia’s hold on the city has decreased dramatically.
So, the most unlikely detail for today’s world would be the brutal beatings reserved for those caught cheating in Mafia-run casinos. That’s not how Vegas works anymore.
21 – based on a true story but ends up in fantasy territory
Accuracy rating: 4
The story of 21 is based on actual events. A team of MIT students indeed took casinos by storm with their card counting tactics, but it didn’t reach the scale expressed on-screen.
The geeky part of card counting is not entirely depicted as it would have turned an exciting movie into a boring math lesson. However, seasoned Blackjack players will see nothing unruly in how the game rounds are carried out during the film.
We’ve already mentioned a critical inaccuracy in this movie, the scales of the MIT group’s winnings. Should they have left casinos with the staggering amounts presented in the film, operators would have triggered red alerts much sooner. The second exaggeration has to do with casino operators’ violence against card counters.
Since land-based casinos now function by a strict rulebook, having long left behind the days when they were at the hands of the Mafia, such violence against cheaters is unfathomable. In reality, the Blackjack mavericks would have been kindly asked to leave a casino’s premises, may have been escorted by bodyguards, but not beaten up for cheating.
Uncut Gems – on-point about addiction, but slightly off about bookies and bets
Accuracy rating: 4
Uncut Gems was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2019, bringing the best out of Adam Sandler’s dramatic acting. The film focuses on sports betting and successfully captures the spirals of gambling addiction.
If you didn’t watch the film, you should, especially if you’re into sports betting yourself. You might prevent the tragic unfolding of Ratner’s destiny, which featured all the marks of an out-and-out problem gambler: playing other people’s money, placing crazy parlays, going into debt, and hoping to recoup the damage through betting.
However, as realistic and heartfelt the acting of Adam Sandler may be, Uncut Gems displays a bit of technical inexactness in the way it portrays bookies and bets. For instance, Ratner keeps rambling about ‘prop bet parlays,’ depicted in the movie as Lightning Bets. In short, a prop bet is a wager on the finer nuances of a game outside its outcome. Whether a player scores or not or the number of passes they accomplish would count as prop bets.
While sportsbooks do offer prop bets, you cannot layer them on multiple-selection bet slips. The reason is simple: the incredibly long odds would create too much liability for the house should the wager win.
Rounders – the most authentic depiction of a tight heads-up poker clash
Accuracy rating: 5
We’ve chosen to award the top spot in our list to the final scene in Rounders. By many accounts, it’s one of the most well-constructed poker scenes in worldwide cinema, featuring great shots and filming angles. The acting by Matt Damon and John Malkovich is convincing to the most subtle facial expressions.
But the intensity toward the end of the film is not where all of its brilliance lies. We come across multiple genuine portrayals of a poker player’s life throughout the plot. The constant chasing of an elusive huge win to pay off debts accrued through poker play is the movie’s central theme, and it’s expressed most convincingly.
Here, too, we encounter some overblown details. You wouldn’t end up playing high-stakes poker with undercover KGB agents, wouldn’t you? Still, the actual gameplay scenes are memorable.
We’re well aware that our list does not feature all the best gambling films out there. Still, our aim was not to provide an exhaustive list but to rate casino scenes’ authenticity in 5 well-known movies. We’re confident they will prove entertaining no matter if you’re into gambling or not. Now that you have an overview that didn’t spoil much of the movies’ plots, you can go on and binge-watch them all!