Gambling is enjoyed the world over for the thrill and excitement of the chance. Whether it’s scenes of high-rollers risking it all on that double-or-quits bet, or a casino backdrop to a gripping storyline, gambling regularly has a role to play in films, TV, books and video games. Indeed, some of the best films of all time draw on elements of gambling to add extra entertainment value into the mix, and it’s in part responsible for developing the reputation of casinos as a high-end evening’s entertainment, both online and offline.
Everyone has their own ideas about the best gambling films, and the best on-screen stories that weave gambling into the mix. We’ve narrowed it down to a top 3, a must-see list for fans of risking it big to win even bigger. Without further ado, here’s our rundown of our three favourite films that feature gambling, films you simply must check out if you haven’t already.
Casinos have long been considered attractive targets for audacious heist attempts. In reality, the vast majority of those that try their luck at robbing casinos end up on the wrong side of a lengthy jail sentence, but it doesn’t stop the subject making for excellent on-screen entertainment. Oceans 11 is arguably one of the finest casino heist stories every written, and its modern remake on the time-tested classic easily makes its way onto the list.
A crack team is put together by the suave, sophisticated Danny Ocean. The gang sets out for a mega payday at the expense of not one, but three of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas. In a plan that would make even the most hardened criminal gangs blush, Ocean relies on the diverse skillset of his assembled team, plus bags of his own charm and charisma, to pull it off. The film spawned several other installments too, and deploys humour to good effect in making for a highly watchable film franchise – and one that has big money gambling and casino resorts at its core.
Few characters embody the suave sophistication of the high roller like James Bond. The world’s most famous fictional secret agent, Bond can be seen in any number of films upping the ante at the casino, as he somehow manages to fit gambling in to his no-doubt hectic, action-packed working week. Casino Royale is in our opinion the definitive choice, though you won’t have to watch too many Bond films before you stumble across a gambling scene. In Casino Royale, Bond turns his hand to a popular table game Texas Hold’em, in a game that is truly one of the highest stakes games you’ll ever witness, with a lot more than just a few quid on the line.
Interestingly, the original story has Bond playing baccarat, or Chemin de Fer, rather than Texas Hold’em. It’s arguably to do with making the gameplay as simple as possible for a mainstream audience to understand, but both games see Bond risking it all in a play that tenuously links to the national security interests of the United Kingdom. If you suspend disbelief for a second, as you must in all Bond films, it makes for plenty of gripping gambling action. Plus, the action scenes aren’t half bad, either.
Martin Scorsese’s 1995 crime drama draws an all-star cast to this dark tale of the Mafia that gambling fans the world over have enjoyed for decades. Robert de Niro is, as always, fantastic in the role of Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, a sports betting guru who is sent on behalf of the Mob to run certain of their gambling interests in Vegas. As the net tightens around the Mob’s illicit gambling operation, de Niro’s character finds himself in ever-increasing difficulty, struggling to meet the balance between doing the right thing, and protecting himself and his family from the threat of Mafia violence. The film features the famous blackjack card game scene where Nicky Santoro played by Joe Pesci is on a losing streak and is unable to win a single hand.
This is a film that’s a must for those who enjoy thinking about the business end of casinos, and in particular for fans of the likes of Goodfellas and The Godfather series. It was Oscar-nominated and won a Golden Globe amongst others, but at its core, this is just a hugely entertaining film, and compulsory viewing for anyone who enjoys the escapism of gambling.