The Winning Hand 

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC How Gambling Is Pictured In Film

Tom Moyse, from online casino comparison site, talks about what key factors make for a blockbuster gambling film.

Casino, Ocean’s Eleven, 21, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Cincinnati Kid are just a handful of gambling films that have gone on to achieve box office success, critical acclaim, and classic status among worldwide audiences.

Indeed, casino flicks seem to tap into our psyche in ways that other genres do not; they are exciting, entertaining, gritty, brooding, dark, and jovial. Sometimes they are just one of these, other times a unique and intriguing mix of them all.

Gambling movies offer the full package; a captivating plot with interesting characters, set in incredible locations from Las Vegas (The Hangover) to Montenegro (Casino Royale) with a stellar cast of actors and actresses.

But not all casino films are created equal, and some are better at capturing the essence of gambling – the risk, the reward, the anticipation and fear of putting all your chips on black – than others.

At, we recently compiled a list of the ten best gambling films of all time. And while it is entirely subjective and open to debate, it did make us think about what key factors are required for a blockbuster casino flick.

For gamers, a key consideration is the accuracy of the gambling taking place. So while the high stakes poker game in Casino Royale makes for great watching, the hands being played by Bond and Le Chiffre stretch the realms of reality.

The Cincinnati Kid, on the other hand, is very much a movie for poker aficionados. The gambling scenes accurately portray the skill, intelligence and cunning required to be among the best at the game.

Casino is also considered one of the most realistic when it comes to how gambling empires are run, offering plenty of insight into operating sports books, table games, slots machines and poker via betting percentages and odds.

Plausibility is also important. That’s not to say a bit of Hollywood magic can’t be used from time to time, but the most popular gambling films tend to be based on true events and stories.

Take Owning Mahowny, for example, which tells the story of Dan Mahowny who at the age of 24 was the youngest assistant manager in the history of the Canadian Imperial Bank.

Mahowny hides a fierce gambling addiction, and to feed his habit defrauds the bank of $10m over an 18-month period before being caught. And while this may seem like a plot devised by a scriptwriter, it is a case of fact being stranger than fiction.

It portrays the dark side of gambling, and the incredible lengths people go to in order to get their fix. The inner gambler within us connects with these real-life narratives, and is engaged by how some push their appetite for risk to the extreme.

That’s not to say entirely fictional gambling movies don’t hit the spot too – Ocean’s Eleven is perhaps one of the most successful casino flicks of all time – but fiction based on fact certainly appeals to regular punters.

Location is important, too. And while Las Vegas is an obvious choice for gambling films there are plenty of other settings around the world. Take the traditional riverboat casino in Maverick, for example.

Gamblers like to see the bright lights and seductive showgirls of Sin City – the home of casinos – as it is a place most are familiar with and have visited often. But they also want to see new locations – even if fictional as is the case with the stunning Macau casino (complete with Komodo dragon) featured in Skyfall.

In reality, however, there is no formula for a blockbuster gambling film. 21 – the story of a group of M.I.T math wizards who learn to count cards and bring down the house – combines most of the above factors and is a modern gambling classic.

But Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas features very little gambling yet still has legendary status among casino goers.

And that’s because it – and other gambling films have the same thing in common. They are simply great movies.

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