Extras: Hollywood’s Love Affair with Casinos and Gambling

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by Aveline MacQuoid on June 16, 2021

in Extras

Hollywood’s Love Affair with Casinos and Gambling

Gambling has been featured in the movies on numerous occasions. Sometimes it is because of the links between the Mob and Vegas, in movies such as Casino, and other times it is because Sin City is the perfect setting for a heist movie; Ocean’s 11.

There are true-life stories, based on true stories, and pure fiction. However casinos and card games are used though, they often make for compelling Hollywood movies.

The last few years have shown that the movie industry has no interest in slowing down either. Uncut Gems showed Adam Sandler could carry his own in a truly high-octane movie about a man always chasing after the big win. Described as a movie of mesmerizing chaos, Uncut Gems was shockingly ignored at the Oscars and the Golden Globes.

This was one of the more recent examples of gambling and Hollywood mixing to bring an intense story to life, but there are plenty more from the past. Here are some of the other better examples and a few turkeys too from the movie industry.

Why is Hollywood so keen on gambling stories?

It may seem strange that so many films about poker, card games, casinos, and sports betting, are made in a country that has such strict gambling rules.

Up until 2018, it was illegal to place sports bets in most of the country until the Supreme Court decreed that the PASPA act was no longer needed. This opened up the states to allow the public to engage in placing bets on sporting activities.

However, the USA has a long history of gambling, and watching such activities in the movies goes back decades. Saloons full of drinkers, gamblers, and people of ill-repute are seen in many a western, and the card game often set the scene for a barroom brawl or a gunfight. Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Pat Garret, all enjoyed a reputation for gambling and being handy with their pistols.

Gambling movies also allow a dive into the character’s soul. They may be trying to hit one big win to take themselves out of trouble, or they may be in debt and facing danger, or it could be about revenge as in the Ocean’s 13’s heist. 

Notable Hollywood movies about gambling and casinos

The stand-out movies from Hollywood include Rain Man, The Cincinnati Kid, The Gambler with James Caan, The Color of Money, and Molly’s Game, to name but a few.

What is to be noted about most of these movies is that they nearly always involve card games. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in making a movie about slot machines despite their popularity in the real world.

The Color of Money and Mississippi Grind are two exceptions. Where one involves hustling around pool halls the latter, while featuring cards, also involves betting on basketball, horses, and finally craps. The Color of Money resulted in a Best Actor Oscar for Paul Newman and while it doesn’t quite fit into the gambling movie genre is still a fine example from Scorcese. 

Gambling movies attract the best talent

While the movies haven’t always turned out the best, the scripts or ideas behind them often bring out the best actors and directors.

Looking at the roll call of actors involved in movies based around gambling and it almost like looking at Hollywood royalty. Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Paul Newman in The Hustler, Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid, Robert De Niro, Matt Damon, Ed Norton, Joe Pesci, Aaron Sorkin, Steven Soderbergh, Scorsese, and DiCaprio.

When you consider that 44% of Americans visited a casino in 2019, perhaps the reason that these movies are so popular is that they represent a certain part of American culture. From the wild west to Las Vegas, the world of gambling is part of the USA’s history. 

Online casino movies

Due to the popularity of online casinos in real life, you might start to see more of these included in movies. As for now, there is really only one movie that has delved into online gambling and that was Runner Runner.

Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t received very well despite combining household names such as Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, and Leonardo DiCaprio in a Producer’s role. What is interesting though is it delves into the world of online poker and how an off-shore nettikasino works.

Justin Timberlake’s character gambles his tuition money and loses but believes that he has been cheated and goes looking for the owner of the website; Ben Affleck. Fortunately, real-life online casinos are regulated and licensed and there is no nefarious kingpin stealing college funds from online slot machines or poker games. 

It’s not just Hollywood either

While the majority of movies that land on the big screens probably come from big studios, there are plenty of smaller budget, foreign films worth watching too. This leads to a great variety for the cinema and movie lover and long may it continue.

Back in 1998, Croupier was released, featuring Clive Owen as Manfred who is out of work and down on his luck. Manfred wants to write a bestseller and his girlfriend is helping to fund his way. However, Manfred has a shady past involving gambling that is never fully explained and soon finds himself back working in a casino where, unknown to him, plans are being made behind his back.

Listed on this very site as one of the great anti-heroes of cinema, Clive Owen puts in a determined, cool performance of an almost narcissistic character who finds out he’s not quite as in control as he thought.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels was a huge cult hit and spawned the ‘sequel’ Snatch. The movie revolves around a debt caused by a rigged poker game and has action and comedy, and is well worth a look if you missed it the first time. 


The movies and gambling are interlinked because casino games offer so much human drama. Whether it is the student being cheated out of his life savings and college tuition fees in online casino drama, Runner Runner, or the revenge story of Lucky Number Slevin, card games and casino movies let the viewer into a life they wouldn’t normally be part of.

Fortunately for most people, playing slot machines on their smartphone or poker at home with friends isn’t going to lead to any trouble. Play casino games sensibly and enjoy the movies without worry.

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