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Gambling: Blackjack And Its Portrayal In The Movies

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Blackjack is one of the most popular games there is in casinos. Evolving from the french game vingt-et-un in the 1700s, blackjack soon gained interest in gambling venues and attracted crowds of people who wanted to try out something new. As a thrilling game with plenty of drama, blackjack has become one of the main attractions in today’s casinos and even features in the storylines of a number of hit films.

Part of what has made blackjack so popular is that it is relatively easy to play. While many traditional casino games have complicated rules that take time to remember, blackjack can be picked up fairly quickly. Players tend to grasp an understanding of when to hit, split or stand after their first few games.

Another aspect of blackjack’s appeal is its low house edge. This means that players have relatively good odds in this game compared with other casino games.

What makes it the ideal casino game to feature in movies is that it is known worldwide. It is played widely and has static rules that players in all regions and countries know to follow. Also, the fact that blackjack is a fast paced game gives it movie appeal. This helps to keep the audience of their toes and avoids the boredom that could be created by more drawn out games.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best gambling movies and their portrayal of the game blackjack:


The Last Casino (2004)

Directed by Pierre Gill, the 2004 Canadian film The Last Casino is based on the concept of card counting.

After being banned from the casino for counting, a university mathematics professor assembles a team of students to carry out his card counting technique and help him pay back his large gambling debts. The students set off to play their strategy in casinos and begin to have some success. They are eventually set a challenge by the professor to win half a million dollars. Working to a tight deadline, the team are under pressure and make a number of risky decisions to get hold of the cash.

In one of the first scenes, we are introduced to the professor as he plays at the table of a local casino. He is closely watched by the security teams through CCTV cameras, as they catch on to his winning strategy. The film has been praised for its realism. The amounts won were small enough to be realistic. Rather than a dramatic Hollywood style bust-up, he is barred from the venue and allowed to keep his chips, as he would in real-life.

While not filmed in glamorous Las Vegas casinos, the movie still reflects the drama and thrilling experience of playing real-life blackjack.


License to Kill (1989)

James Bond fans will fondly remember 1989 spy film License to Kill. Starring Timothy Dalton as the famous MI6 agent, the movie follows Bond as he goes after murderous drug lord Franz Sanchez.

Playing blackjack is not the agent’s usual style, he is most often portrayed as playing other table games such as poker or baccarat. This helps to make the blackjack scene in License to Kill even more memorable. In this scene, James Bond challenges the film’s villain and casino’s owners to a game, resulting in a jackpot win of £250,000.

The blackjack moment was stylishly shot and contained both the glamour and drama that is synonymous with the James Bond brand.


The Cooler (2003)

Directed by Wayne Kramer, the 2003 hit American film The Cooler is another thrilling movie that depicts the excitement and suspense created by the game blackjack.

The film has been nominated for and won numerous awards and managed to achieve $10 million dollars in the box office. However, it has received some criticism for being filmed on location in Downtown Reno as opposed to in a popular gambling city like Las Vegas. Filming in Sin City would have perhaps added more drama and authenticity to the movie.

In the plot, casino employee Bernie Lootz is tasked with being the venue’s designated ‘cooler’. This is an individual whose presence at the table is designed to stop real players from winning and help protect the casino’s revenue.

Bernie’s bad luck begins to fade as he falls madly in love with cocktail waitress Natalie. However, she has actually been paid to fake her attraction by casino boss Shelly in order to stop Bernie from leaving his job. The film gives an interesting insight into the role of a cooler and illustrates the dangers of getting into debt with brutal casino kingpins.


Rain Man (1988)

Another card counting themed blackjack film is American 80’s comedy Rain Man. The movie was an instant box office success and the highest grossing that year.

Young Charlie Babbitt, played by Tom Cruise, finds out that he has an autistic brother named Raymond with savant syndrome. This syndrome gives Raymond extraordinary mathematical abilities that surpass the abilities of most other people. After getting himself into a significant amount of debt, Charlie uses Raymond to carry out a card counting strategy in a Las Vegas casino and earn the money that he so desperately needs.

In the casino scene, Raymond clearly feels uncomfortable because of the loud noise and bright lights of the casino. However, Charlie encourages him to participate in a game of blackjack. Raymond utilises his impressive counting abilities to anticipate a hand with a number of Queens. From there, the pair are able to collect a significant amount of winnings as the crowd around them look on in amazement.

This scene inspired a spoof scene in the 2009 comedy The Hangover. The scene portrays Zach Galifianakis’ character carrying out the same card counting technique, which has since been turned into a popular meme.


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