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What Casino Movies don’t tell you about real life gambling

Everyone loves a good casino movie, from classics like Martin Scorsese’s ‘Casino’ and comedy caper ‘Maverick’ to modern blockbusters like ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and ‘Uncut Gems’. Something about the thrill of a high stakes game of poker or card-counting blackjack players draw in the audience like nothing else. Is it the fantasy we all share of achieving great wealth or simply the suspense of not knowing what’s coming next?

Either way, one thing is for sure – casino movies are a sure winner at the box office, with the ‘fact-based’ Vegas card-counting drama ‘21’ bringing in almost $160 million on a $35 million budget. In a recent and rare move away from comedy, funny man Adam Sandler managed to attract $37 million in profit as debt-ridden jeweler Howard Ratner in the Safdie Brothers nail-biting New York thriller “Uncut Gems”.

It seems that chancing your luck on the silver screen is a safe bet for producers – but how real are these movies when you take them to the streets?


Gambling Strategies

Many casino movies glamorise gambling strategies, selling the dream that some careful planning could lead to untold riches. From card-counting and complex mathematical formulas to fancy dress and distractions, there seems to be an endless amount of ways to get one over on the house. However, you might find that these rather convenient strategies usually don’t work quite so often in real life.


Casino movies have a tendency to romanticise gambling in a way that simply doesn’t happen in real life. If you think it’s all glitzy hotels and girls in cocktail dresses, you may be severely disappointed. Most career gamblers spend their time alone, glued to the seat of a slot machine, waiting for that big jackpot that will free them from this life of drudgery.

Even in supposedly ‘based-on-fact’ movies like 21, we find that Hollywood has applied its romantic magic and the true story was far more pedestrian than the movie makes out. The truth is, the vast majority of gamblers have normal day jobs which they struggle to attend to after a long night spent at the casino, drinking away their sorrows and praying for that big win.


Card Counting

The most common form of casino trickery is card counting, a method glamorised in popular movies like The Hangover and 21. The idea being that a few smart players with some math skills can take a casino for millions of dollars after just a few hands of blackjack. In reality, though, the mental capacity and memory required are far greater than the average human is capable of. Unless you have genius equivalent to that exhibited by Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character Raymond in Rain Man, you’ll likely just end up losing money like the rest of us.

Even if you do happen to have the memory of an IBM supercomputer, you’ll still have trouble using card counting to fleece casinos for millions. Remember the golden rule: ‘the house always wins’? Well, casinos spend a lot of money making sure that the rule stays true. They have eagle-eyed security that can spot a card counter from a mile away, and once you’re caught, that’s it.

Think you can simply pop next door and try again at the next casino? Fat chance. Popular gambling hotspots like the Las Vegas strip may look like they have an endless supply of casinos to choose from, but the big operators control hundreds of smaller casinos spread around the city, just like how online casino sites host thousands of smaller sister casinos. Once they know your face, you may as well skip town.




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