Unrealistic lessons we learnt about casinos from the movies
Everybody loves a casino scene in a movie, or even better, whole films based in and around casinos. Some of the greatest movies ever made have featured casinos, and for good reason. They provide instant glamor, high-stakes drama, and many opportunities to show character and to set up challenges and dilemmas. Casinos are movie gold, and for most of us, the films are the way that we first experience a casino setting, long before we ever walk into one in real life.
What can we learn about casinos from their depictions in films? And how realistically are they portrayed? Many films have been set in real-life casinos that you can visit. These are usually in Las Vegas, from Bellagio in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) with George Clooney to Caesars Palace in The Hangover (2009) and Planet Hollywood in 21 (2008). This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything in these films is true to life, however, as we found out when we looked at what casino movies appear to be telling us and compared this to how the casino sector really works.
All casinos are run by the Mob
This is pretty much a given in Hollywood movies, and indeed many are based on real-life stories, from Bugsy (1991) to Casino (1995). However, the crucial point about these films is that they deal with Las Vegas as it was over 50 years ago, when the Mafia did indeed have a strong presence. Nowadays, most major casinos are owned by legitimate, high-profile conglomerates that pay their taxes and play by the rules. Modern casinos are highly regulated by both the government and the industry itself.
Cheating at casinos will get you beaten up or worse
No-one likes a cheat, and it’s true that the staff at casinos will take a dim view of anyone who seems to have an obvious scam going. However, at worst, you’ll be refused service, asked to leave or reported to the police. As above, modern casinos aren’t run by gangsters, and their security isn’t made up of violent goons and murderers but well-trained men and women who are there to nip trouble in the bud, not to cause it. These are decent, ordinary working people who are also experts in resolving difficult situations with the minimum of fuss.
Card counting is an easy way to make a million
We’re certainly not advising you to cheat your way through games of blackjack by card counting or any other means, however. The reason isn’t because you risk violent retribution: card counting isn’t even illegal, and if you’re caught, the worst that will happen is that you’ll be asked to leave the table. The reason not to bother is that it’s technically dishonest and goes against the spirit of the game, and it’s also just not worth the effort.
Becoming a card sharp takes a lot of preparation and, assuming that you’re betting $100 per hand, the most that you stand to make is $10 per hour. Even to pull in that paltry wage, you’d have to make it a full-time job: the real-life MIT blackjack team that 21 is based on often went weeks without a win. You’d also need a huge bankroll behind you to keep playing those hands. You’re better off heading to a gambling website for online casino real money where you have just a chance of winning, and at least you can save money on food and drink, betting from your own home.
Big games always end with everyone holding crazy hands
Think of the gripping conclusions to Maverick (1994) or even The Cincinnati Kid (1965). Our hero is faced with a seemingly unbeatable hand by his opponent at the poker table. The spectators smile knowingly: he’s done for now and he’s going to lose everything (because, of course, bravado string betting has increased the pot to an unbelievable fortune). But no! Our hero, by some amazing stroke of luck, has the one hand that could possibly beat the one that he’s faced with (or as in The Cincinnati Kid, it’s the other way around).
Possibly the worst offender in this regard is Casino Royale (2006). It’s a four-way pot and everyone’s playing a $40m hand (because, of course, table limits are for lesser mortals). The pot is a cool $120m. The hands are revealed: two full houses, a flush and a straight flush. Never mind the stunts and the audacious plans for world domination: this may be the single most unrealistic moment in the entire James Bond franchise.
In fairness, some casino movies are quite realistic in many ways. Casino shows many accurate details about how a major operation of this kind is run, and the behind-the-scenes moments in Ocean’s Eleven are also pretty good, at least until it comes to the heist. Overall, however, it pays to distinguish fact from fiction, and to know that what makes for high drama in the movies isn’t always how it plays out in reality.
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