One of the most popular topics in cinema is undoubtedly gambling and the locations where it takes place, with of course the main ones being the land-based casinos. One could say that this is a category of movies that can stand by itself: from the early 20th century until today have been released, without exaggeration, hundreds of such films with some of them classified as masterpieces. Especially in Hollywood, gambling movies are very common – with the majority of them taking place, of course, in Las Vegas, the “Mecca of gambling”- to gather in their cast several showbiz stars and to be supervised by top directors. Some of these creations are dedicated exclusively to gambling, while others contain individual scenes related to them, independent of the basic script.
But why is the casino theme so popular with filmmakers and viewers? One factor that we can not overlook is definitely the whole aesthetics around the casinos since most casino movies’ central features are the luxury that one encounters – most of the time at least – in such a space. The guaranteed presence of beautiful women at the tables (especially in the James Bond movies) is also one of the strong “cards” of the genre. However, the main stimulus for the viewer is the anxiety and excitement he feels the moment the protagonist gambles and especially if he wins, something that usually happens at the last minute with the reversal of the data in his favor. After all, in movies, some of every person’s dreams that may never happen in real life can come true. The millions of winnings that can be made overnight look so easy on the big screen, and sometimes they can occur in a casino online.
But not everything is rosy in gambling movies. Many of them deal with the protagonist’s addiction and his struggle to break free, such as ” Owning Mahowny ” (“Dan Mahoney’s Blind Roll”) by Philip Seymour Hoffman, based on real events. A senior member of a banking group gradually stole $10 million from his own business, which he then lost by gambling.
On the other hand, crime seems to go hand in hand with these films, whether it is the mafia that usually controls what happens inside and outside casinos (or where gambling is generally conducted) or it is a matter of clearing player accounts after a game. Films with wanna-be robbers or big casino burglars are also plentiful and successful at the box office where they were shown, although they are usually comedies like Ocean’s 11. These films portray the villain’s role in the casino – generally through the bad owner or site manager – while would-be robbers present themselves as other “Robin Hoods,” trying to tear down the status quo and trick the security of the space that usually has an exemplary set up.
Which games are mainly played in the casino scenes?
Going forward, it is worth looking more specifically at the games preferred by the films’ protagonists. Most of them play roulette, poker, blackjack, or slot machines. With a few exceptions, especially in older films in the James Bond series, where the preferred game was baccarat.
The slot machines probably seem a less exciting game for the viewer as it is a solitary bet, unlike roulette, where many gamers can crowd around the table to talk or even tease the dealer. After all, roulette also has the agony of bouncing the ball, which can change the field at the last minute and give a different color and number until the last second. On the other hand, card games are also popular in the cinema, with viewers adoring a good poker match between the protagonist and his opponent. The factor of intelligence (which always pushes the viewer to like the protagonist) can not be ignored here either. Anxiety always rises to the vertical, and the protagonist usually has, in addition to his sharp mind and excellent knowledge of the game, luck but also “playful” talents such as the surprisingly expressionless face, correct bluff, self-control, and the necessary toughness and courage in critical moments. Card games in the cinema are all popular. Still, poker and blackjack have a prominent place in popular tastes.
As for the history of cinema with gambling, it begins almost a century ago, in Hollywood’s golden age, after silent cinema. Although, there were some films in the early 20th century with Charlie Chaplin and Chondro and Ligno where the protagonists and the audience gamble in boxing matches, the first films with a central theme of gambling were shown in the early 1930s. The American movie ” Smart Money “ deals entirely with the story of a poker player named Nick Venizelos, who goes through various adventures in infamous clubs trying to find the best poker player of his time to face.
Ten years later, in 1941, the first film based on the history of a casino was released, entitled “The Shanghai Gesture” as it became known in Greek. The protagonist is the owner of a casino in Shanghai which aims to take revenge on a British soldier and a group of people with whom he has opened a vendetta. For most of the film, the viewer watches the development of various roulette games, both by the protagonist and by the opposing side.
In 1942 the famous and award-winning film Casablanca was released, which may not have been dedicated to gambling. Still, much of it took place in an illegal club in Morocco, with Humphrey Bogart taking part in one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema involving roulette.
Mention should be made in the case of James Bond. The popular hero, whose personality has been associated with beautiful women and gambling profits more than any other movie hero, will be found in one way or another in every movie in the series. In 1967 an entire film was named Casino Royale after the eponymous venue and the casino’s importance in the development of the case.