Going for Broke (2003) Reviewed

May 14, 2021
The Turner Classic made for TV movie, Going for Broke, is a cautionary tale about the dangers of irresponsible gambling based on true events.

Directed by Graeme Campbell and starring Delta Burke and Ellen Page (now Elliot Page), the movie follows an ordinary woman through her seemingly ordinary life, the twists and turns that changed everything, and the consequences of unchecked gambling addiction.

Not a blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination, Going for Broke is an unassuming, low-budget film that happens to be chock full of emotional moments, drama, and real-life lessons that put a hard truth into human terms.

The plot

Based on a true story, Going for Broke is a 2003 made for TV movie about Laura Bancroft, a wife and mother who moves her family to the desert oasis of Reno, Nevada to work for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in the 1990s. Asked to take charge of a team for the foundation’s fundraising division, Laura’s talent is recognised and shines in her new position.

Laura clearly sees this move as a fresh start for her and her family — and has a new lease on life as the film begins. Shortly after their move, however, while on a date at a Reno casino with her partner, Jim Bancroft, Laura tries her luck at a poker slot machine — an activity she had never tried before.

Surprisingly, she has some pretty incredible luck her first time and gets hooked on the thrill of gambling. Before she knows it, she’s gambling as a way to ‘blow off steam’ and relax after a hard day’s work. Overwhelmed with a full-time job, a house, kids, and a million things on her plate that need her attention back in the real world, gambling becomes her escape.

Unfortunately for Laura, as her gambling picks up, her losing streak does too. Her luck doesn’t hold and she begins to lose money faster than she can win it back. At this point, Laura starts to make some increasingly bad decisions: spending her family’s money, lying to her loved ones, ignoring bills and responsibilities, and eventually losing everything. She’s become addicted to gambling: the excitement of winning and the desperation of losing.

Who is Laura Bancroft?

The film follows the story of Laura Bancroft, a fictional character based on the true story of Gina Garcia. Gina was executive director of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation from 1993 to 1997 and actually experienced all of the trials and tribulations that were shown in the film.

Laura, like Gina, was a compulsive gambler who could never follow the principles of safe gambling. The character deftly describes the draw of the games and how playing became like a drug: “The machines, the video poker and slots, they’re called the crack cocaine of gambling because they’re cheap, and there’s the instant gratification: lights flash, the bells ring, and all you can think of is the next hand you’ll be playing. After a while you don’t need the lights, it’s all you think of anyway.”

Gina’s real-life trials and tribulations are something the audience can really relate to, especially if you’ve ever stepped onto the floor of a casino. The flashing lights and sounds can be overwhelming the first time and it’s very exciting, but also costly.

Her gambling acquaintance, Bella, also shrewdly explained that “There’s only one sure way to double your money in Nevada: fold it in half, then put it back in your purse.”

The takeaway

Based on actual events, this movie produced some real-life consequences of its own. As a result of the film, Nevada casinos are now required by law to post the telephone number for Gamblers Anonymous on their premises, should any of their patrons decide to reach out for help.

The inspiration behind Laura Bancroft, Gina Garcia, also went on to try to help others who may be struggling by lecturing on the dangers of gambling. She was even featured in the Las Vegas Sun in the late ’90s where she told her story to the Nevada Gaming Commission about a life broken by gambling addiction.

After hitting rock bottom, Gina eventually was able to pull herself out of her own addictions and stop gambling. Using her story, she’s dedicated herself to helping others and telling her story, hoping to save others from making the same mistakes.

A life-changing bet

The Turner Classic Movie, Going for Broke, is a great example of a TV movie that is able to pull back the curtain on the realities of gambling addiction. As the movie progresses, the audience can see the mental strain wearing Laura down, her priorities changing from where they began at opening credits and the desperation that drives her to make worse and worse decisions.

It’s clear that while this movie may have set out to retell a real-life cautionary tale, it ends up being an emotional, documentary-like film that could show its audience what signs to look for in a loved one that has a gambling addiction.

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