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Famous Gamblers In Film

There have been many films made over the years that involve casinos, horse racing, betting and more. They make a great setting or plot point for a film and can be the base for many genres of film – drama, thriller, heist, comedy etc.

For many of us a visit to an actual casino is a rare thing. More people will likely have placed a bet or gambled online at places such as online casino NZ dollar yet films give us a closer look at the inner workings of casinos. One scene in Martin Scorsese’s Casino follows the money from table to the back rooms where we would never get to see in real life.

While not always the main focus of films set in these places, there are many out there that do involve looking at the lives of the people who gamble. For some it is just part of their lifestyle, others dabble and for some it is the whole focus of their lives.

So let us take a look at some of those characters.

Axel Freed – The Gambler (1974)

Written by James Toback, this semi-autobiographical film was directed by Karel Reisz. It stars James Caan as Axel Freed, an English professor who is in debt to his bookie, and we follow Freed as he attempts to make enough money to pay off his debt. Caan gives a master class performance as Freed. The film focuses on the personality of the main character while the events take place around him.

There was a remake in 2014 that starred Mark Wahlberg as the title character although he was renamed Jim Bennet.

James Bond – Casino Royale (2006)

To be honest, almost any of the James Bond films could have been including here, but let us stick with Casino Royale as there are many scenes at the poker table and MI6 put Daniel Craig’s Bond into the poker tournament as he was the agency’s best poker player. That is one of the prime motivations of Bond. He loves to gamble. He loves the risk both at the table or while out doing all the spy shenanigans that keep bringing us back to each new film.

This soft reboot of the character also gave us a glimpse of how he went from being a brutal thug near the start to the suave, debonair secret agent we all love.

The scenes at the poker table of Bond versus Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre are every bit as thrilling as the car chases and gun fights.

Bernie Lootz – The Cooler (2003)

William H. Macy’s Bernie Lootz makes a living from working at a casino. He is not a dealer. He gets to play cards. However, he is a “cooler”, which means he has incredible bad luck. The casino places Bernie at the table to stop people from winning. From this beginning, we follow Bernie as he plays card with different people and tries to come to terms with new relationships and changes going on around him. We spend most of the film with Bernie and it is interesting focusing on a character who makes a living from losing. We also get to see the inner workings of the casino and the many different people who go there.

Bret Maverick – Maverick (1994)

The Richard Donner directed comedy Western was based on the long-running TV show of the same name that starred James Garner as the title character.

The film starred Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick, a card player and con artist. The film follows Maverick trying to raise money to enter a poker tournament to prove he is the best card player alive. We get to see Maverick get into and out of various scrapes using his charm and wits.

His whole life is based around gambling and many Western TV shows and films feature classic scenes set around the poker table.

The supporting cast includes Jodie Foster, James Garner, Graham Greene, James Coburn, Alred Molina and many cameos from other actors (including Gibson’s Lethal Weapon costar Danny Glover), many of whom had appeared in various Westerns over the years.

Sam “Ace” Rothstein – Casino (1995)

Martin Scorsese’s Casino stars Robert De Niro Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a sports gambler and expert handicapper. The film and character were based on the life of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, who was once called “the greatest living expert on sports gambling” by Sports Illustrated. He was also credited with bringing increased exposure to sports betting to Las Vegas in the 1970s.

In the film we see Rothstein getting brought in to oversee the running of the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. It gives us an incredible look at the day-to-day running of the place along with the various laws and organisations that are used to run casinos.

Molly Bloom – Molly’s Game (2017)

Jessica Chastain plays the titular character in this biographical drama that was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin.

Bloom, who had to give up her Olympic skiing dream after a terrible injury, ends up running underground poker games. These games saw many famous people take part, and one cannot help but try and figure out which real life people the characters in the film are based.

The film shows the highs and lows of her lifestyle. The fact it is based on actual events and with Aaron Sorkin’s amazing dialogue means you are just focused so deeply on the character.

We also spoke to Chastain about the film and what it was like playing the character of Bloom.


There you have it, just a few of some of the famous gamblers in films. Who are your favourites?


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