Iconic Casino Scenes in TV & Film

One intriguing aspect of the modern era is how rapidly attitudes to gambling are changing. Whereas many parts of the world viewed this pastime with some hostility in the past, now betting at casinos and on sports is widely seen as a harmless and fun leisure pursuit.

That change has been reflected in gambling laws, which are being relaxed to fit the new ideas about it. Countries such as the United States used to have very strict prohibitions on gambling, but now they are starting to loosen those and embrace contemporary attitudes. 

The shift in public opinion concerning it has been driven by two things: the internet and the movie and television industry.

The Impact of Online Gambling

There is little question that the internet has helped people to change their minds about gambling. Online casino and sports betting is available all the time from home, which has removed the sense of these activities being somehow illicit.

That has led to a boom in popularity and many more attractive high paying casino providers entering the online gambling market. From casino to bingo and betting on sports, the internet has given people a lot of choice.

It is not just the rise of online gambling though. Film and television have played a role, as they are hugely influential when it comes to cultural attitudes.

Gambling scenes – particularly ones set in casinos – have long been featured in film and TV shows and that has undoubtedly helped to relax the attitudes of the global public. Whether positive or negative, the scenes are compelling to watch and these are some of the most iconic.

  • Rain Man 

Rain Man was one of the biggest hit Hollywood movies of the late 1980s and probably did more to introduce a generation to blackjack than anything else. Online casinos may be more popular than bricks and mortar ones these days, but movie scenes set in the latter like this one helped to promote the games.

The 1987 film depicts the relationship between brothers Charlie and Ray, played by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman respectively. Charlie is a selfish used car salesman while Ray is an autistic math savant.

Heavily in debt, Charlie takes Ray to a casino in the hope that he can use those skills to count the blackjack cards and win them much-needed cash. The scene is iconic for the way it taught people about the idea of card counting in blackjack, but also for the tension, as Ray keeps hitting the dealer for more cards until it seems like either he has to bust or the audience will.

  • Goodfellas

This 1990 classic directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese provides us with another iconic sequence set within a casino. Rain Man had drama, but it derived from the actual gambling, whereas here it is the incipient threat of violence that keeps viewers on the edges of their seats.

The film tells the story of mobsters over a lengthy period of time and one of the most memorable is the psychopathic Tommy DeVito. He is portrayed by Joe Pesci and the scene sees him react badly to not receiving a drink while playing cards.

Everyone at the table knows what he capable of, as does the audience, and the sense of relief when he turns out to be joking is felt equally by both. It makes for a standout moment in a film that is full of them.

  • The Sopranos

It is not just movies either – television shows love casinos too. This smash hit mob drama from HBO helped to invent the concept of ‘prestige TV’ and it had many remarkable gambling sequences.

Indeed the poker games that protagonist Tony Soprano plays at the Bada Bing for higher and higher stakes were a source of escalating tension throughout the run of the show. The stakes really do get about as high as they can in these games, with the casino itself providing a murky backdrop to the dangerous play. 

The Modern Day

Casinos play key roles in many more recent films and television shows too. One of the crime dramas that followed in the footsteps of The Sopranos was Boardwalk Empire and it focused on the casinos of Atlantic City during the 1920s prohibition era. 

A tipping point in the drama saw lead character Nucky gamble at one of them, turning his life around in the process. Nor is it just television shows, as major movies still frequently include memorable gambling moments.

The card counting blackjack scene from hit comedy film The Hangover is a direct parody of the Rain Man scene, but also serves an important function in the movie narrative.

Film and TV scenes like these have changed attitudes to gambling as much as the internet.

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