How Movies Misrepresent Gambling

Ever notice how scenes involving gambling in movies inevitably devolve into a montage? You know the scenes I’m talking about; the generically good looking heroes are laughing, smiling, raking in chips hand over fist, and all the while a catchy 80s power ballade is playing? I love those scenes.

Ever notice how in real life, casino games never have catchy 80s power ballades playing? I wish they did. I’m a huge fan of Eye of The Tiger, and can’t help but think the song would dramatically increase my chances of drawing four aces. In fact, next time I play some online poker, I’m putting Eye of the Tiger on. Success and enormous winning streaks are basically guaranteed.

Casino games work very well in cinema as plot devices, and the resulting films are generally spectacular journeys of tension, bated breath, and icy poker faces. Heck, I’d go as far as to say casino games and films were basically born bedfellows.

There is, however, one small problem. Casino games are very tense and exciting in real world play, and everyone knows this. But, it just so happens that most casino games are rather difficult to translate into exciting cinema. How often, after all, do hands like royal flushes actually come up in a real poker game?

Poker – The Enemy Of Cinema

Watch a bit of professional poker and something will become clear very quickly; it’s not very exciting. Even the commentators struggle to keep the excitement levels up, regardless of how often they try and babble about how tense the situation is. Poker is not much of a spectator sport.

So, although poker is often used in movies, given its reputation for creating tension and excitement, it happens to be difficult to convey that tension and excitement. At least, it’s difficult to convey if poker is shown in its real form. Hence; the montages and catchy 80s power ballades.

Furthermore; if you played poker as demonstrated by those generically good-looking movie heroes, you’d sure as hell not be raking in cash hand over fist. You would likely be limping away from the poker table with nothing but mothballs in your pockets. No amount of training with a grizzled old coach, or having any amount of deep personal revelations that unlock your true potential, will transform you into a hero who can play poker so well they magically win hand after hand. Let’s face it; poker just doesn’t work like that, regardless of how loud you turn up the volume on Eye of the Tiger.

Artistic License vs Reality

Yes, I know, you’re probably shouting at me about “artistic license,” and similar such things. I realise cinema is a medium that benefits from cutting to the highlights, else we would have eight hour movies that were largely populated by watching people eat breakfast, or go to the bathroom. It pays to assume the viewer realises such things happen off-screen.

You have to admit, however, that cinema really does give a rather skewed perception of gambling in general. The same can be said for Kung Fu, of course, but then I’m not writing about Kung Fu, now am I? If anything, it would at least be nice to see a movie character win with a high card from time to time, as opposed to the odds always being somehow defied, and the winning hand always being a royal flush, straight, or four aces. I mean, really now, how many times in your life have you ever actually even seen a royal flush in a real poker game, in total? Can you count all the instances on one hand? I bet you can.

Realistic Gambling Movies

Curious, I set out to try and find a movie – any movie – that accurately portrayed gambling. And would you believe it, there are virtually none. My original intention was to close this blog by talking about a movie that stood apart from the others, because of how accurately it depicted casino games.

In my search I looked at 21, which is more about card counting than actual playing, but still massively exaggerated even that aspect of casino games. I looked at The Colour of Money, and although it made a good effort, was still geared more towards exaggerating how successful hustlers can be. I even looked at Vegas Vacation with Chevy Chase, because I’d heard it had an aspect of gambling in it.

Then, at last, I came upon an article that mentioned a film called Rounders, starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton. The article spoke about how accurately the movie depicted gambling, and my heart gave a little flutter. Could this have been the film I had been looking for? With fingers trembling, I logged into my Netflix account and pressed play.

No, it wasn’t the film I had been looking for. Rounders is perhaps the worst offender of all the movies I have mentioned, and even has a final showdown between the hero and a nemesis, much like a Rocky movie. Eye of the Tiger did not play during the cards showdown, however, which was disappointing. Not a bad film, though, honestly.

Marc Armstrong - Signature