by Ben Stamos

The thrill of casino games and slot machines offers a glamourous backdrop for movies, and producers have been tapping into this for decades.

The 1960s saw numerous iconic gambling movies made, many of which had their roots set in the crime aspect often associated with the industry.

That seedy element has remained in place since then, although greater regulation in the modern gambling sector means this depiction is now a little unfair.

Despite this, throwing a little underhanded behaviour into the mix undoubtedly offers a more thrilling edge to gambling movies.

Read on as we take a closer look at how Hollywood has depicted casino games like blackjack, roulette, poker and slots over the past 60 years. Feel free to visit these online slots where you find a great variety of games with unique styles.

The Hustler

This 1961 movie is an insightful study of the emotions attached to winning and losing and is rightly recognised as one of the best gambling-themed movies ever made.

Paul Newman plays ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson, a small-time pool hustler who is determined to make it to the top end of the sport.

The film charts Felson’s battles with the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), and how his desire to be the best cost him dearly on a personal level.

Newman reprised his role alongside Tom Cruise in The Color of Money in 1986, but the original is unquestionably the better movie.

The Cincinnati Kid

Steve McQueen shines in the lead role in this 1965 depiction of Eric ‘The Kid’ Stoner – a young poker player eager to cement his status as the best in the business.

Lancey Howard (Edward G Robinson) is the cream of the crop, with his nickname ‘The Man’ perfectly summing up his talents as a poker player.

Bribery and cheating are central to the plot in the movie, which culminates in an inevitable battle between Stoner and Howard.

The final scene where Stoner loses a penny pitch to a shoeshine boy perfectly highlights the highs and lows that gambling can deliver.

The Sting

The 1973 movie The Sting highlighted this to perfection, with Newman teaming up with Robert Redford in the lead roles to pull off an elaborate con job.

They target a criminal boss who loves to gamble and who is after revenge on Redford’s character over a previous swindle.

The plot in The Sting is fairly complicated but builds into a crescendo that showcased how gambling can be the perfect vehicle for film producers.

The Gambler

Hollywood took a slight diversion with the 1974 film The Gambler by taking a look at how a gambling addiction can spiral out of control.

Axel Freed (James Caan) is a professor who appears to have a perfect life, but his fixation with gambling leaves him $44,000 in the red.

He borrows money from his mother to pay off his debts, before blowing it again on a series of wild basketball bets.

What follows from here is a dark depiction of the damage that gambling can cause if it stops being treated as an entertainment activity.


Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone, this 1995 film is arguably the quintessential movie about mob-controlled casino gambling in Las Vegas.

De Niro plays a casino owner with mafia ties, while Pesci is an enforcer whose unhinged behaviour results in the pair receiving death threats.

Most of the primary characters in Casino are based on real people, allowing director Martin Scorsese to create a true-to-life depiction of the industry in the 1970s and early ’80s.

Stone’s performance earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The Cooler

Wayne Kramer’s 2003 film met with critical acclaim, with William H Macy and Alec Baldwin helping to carry what could be argued to be a questionable script.

Macy is the ‘cooler’ in the title – a man employed by casinos to stand close to winning punters and whose own bad luck ends their streak.

However, his fortunes change as he suddenly becomes a lucky charm, leaving Baldwin significantly out of pocket.

The Cooler offers an insight into the concept of luck and casino gambling superstitions, cleverly steering away from the mob-themed element of other movies.

High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story

Many gambling movies are fictional, but director AW Vidmer showed that true stories could also be turned into cinematic masterpieces.

The 2003 film charts the rise and fall of Stuey Ungar, a talented poker player who won three WSOP Main Event tournaments.

However, a severe drug addiction and an inability to translate his successes into the world of sports betting led to his downfall.

Despite winning around $30 million during his poker career, Ungar died with no assets to his name – a sad end to his roller-coaster life.

Casino Royale

Many James Bond films have featured gambling, but none quite so visibly as the 2006 movie Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig.

Bond’s target in the movie is Le Chiffre – a terrorist financier who is aiming to raise funds for his activities by playing high-stakes poker.

Le Chiffre and Bond go head-to-head in an epic showdown in Monte Carlo, which culminates with 007 scooping a $115 million pot.

Gambling becomes an afterthought at that point, as Le Chiffre tries everything in his power to steal the winnings from Bond.


This 2008 film is inspired by the true story of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Blackjack Team, who proved it was possible to take casinos to the cleaners.

The movie shows how the team used card counting and other techniques to consistently make a profit on their visits to Las Vegas.

While the script does take some artistic liberties, 21 offers an excellent insight into how strategies can be implemented in casino games.

Crime and underhanded behaviour are again central to the story, further highlighting Hollywood’s near-obsession with this element of gambling.



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