Nothing quite compares to the thrill of the moment when you gamble and it pays off. It is the lure of the unknown that leads us to unprecedented discoveries. Perhaps the lure of gambling also works in a similar fashion. The adrenaline rush of walking on the thin rope of chance is so great that we feel the second-hand thrill of watching other people make huge gambles. Naturally, this makes gambling a very attractive subject and setting for a film.
We have often seen gambling take the center stage in big Hollywood productions, sometimes as the central subject. Some of these movies manage to shed a light on the sides of gambling that would be otherwise obscure to us. But in true Hollywood fashion, these films are also remarkably unrealistic in some other aspects of gambling. Here are five of the most common gambling tropes that Hollywood would make you think happen, but aren’t true to reality.
1. You do not get ridiculously good hands nearly as often as films might lead you to believe.
Script-writers often use gambling as a cheap plot device to establish a point. But in yet other cases, we see people draw rare hands like the Royal Flush in poker willy-nilly. In reality, these are extremely high value hands for a very specific reason: they are just that rare.
Think of the iconic scene from the modern Bond classic ‘Casino Royale’ for example. In the famous climax of the film where Bond faces off against the antagonist, he just straight up wins over $100 million in a straight flush. Perhaps this portrays Bond in the classic ‘cool’ mould we have come to expect. But the odds of that happening, and such a big win, are rare enough that it probably happens only once in a decade. Not to mention that Bond then decides to tip the dealer half a million – which is an exaggeration of casino etiquette to say the least.
Now, do straight flushes happen in real life? Yes, they do. But to take such an astronomically rare occurrence and pass it off as a happy coincidence greatly misrepresents reality.
2. Card counting does not help you snowball into an unstoppable winning streak.
If you had to single out one gambling-related activity that is wildly romanticized and misrepresented in Hollywood, it is probably card counting. The first example that would pop in anyone’s head is the meme clip of Zach Galfianakis from ‘The Hangover’. In said shot, we find Alan, suddenly a card counting genius, doing some mad math to determine the best hand. In fact, the whole shenanigan gets many things wrong about casino culture and blackjack itself – including the splitting of 5s. But we can take that in the light of comedy meant to poke fun at the real-life infamous MIT card counters. Which brings us to the biggest culprit: the movie 21.
21 is actually about the band of Bill Kaplan et al, i.e. the ‘MIT Blackjack Team’. Now, 21 is supposed to be a fictionalized account of their exploits. But in the film, they keep on winning hand after hand by counting cards. Make no mistake, card counting is an actual legitimate technique. But ask any expert on the subject, and they will tell you that it takes thousands of hands for the effects of card counting to be statistically significant. In reality, the MIT Blackjack team did lose often. While they were pros at the art of card counting, that alone cannot suddenly milk a casino for several grands in an hour.
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3. The casino authorities aren’t the mafia.
We know of numerous mobsters who were also casino tycoons – Benny Binion, ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, the list goes on. Much of what is currently the Las Vegas casino industry was once a couple of gambling joints run by career criminals. No surprise that it also sells as a backset for mob classics on the reel. Most of us have seen ‘Casino’ (1995). While the mob flicks do hold true as a mirror of the 70’s, that is not the case in 2021. Casinos do not have mob ties today. They have transparent laws, regulations, and codes of conduct like a proper clean business.
4. Naturally, they do not have muscles for hire either.
Back when the mob ruled the casino, angering the casino also meant locking horns with the mob. Rumors say that the punishment for trying to rob the casino – and by extension the mob – was unbearably harsh. But those are tales from the distant past. As casinos are not the bode of the unscrupulous, shady types now, their security is just there to keep order.
5. There are no ‘coolers’.
William Macy plays the titular cooler in the 2003 casino flick ‘The Cooler’. However, a bringer of ‘bad luck’ to end hot streaks, needless to say, is a superstition. Nevertheless, it did make for a cool premise in the film.
As we noted earlier, many of these misrepresentations are there for a purpose – plot device or otherwise. Films need to dramatize, and so casino aspects are blown out of proportion. One ought to enjoy the film in that spirit, but one also should not color their expectations from these filmy portraits.
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