How real are gambling movies?

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The age-old debate: are movies generally fictional, or is there some truth to them?

While most people who ask this question focus on movies based on books or movies based on historical events, there is a need to look at whether movies based on gambling are accurate. I say this because most people’s first encounter with the gaming industry is through movies, before they find offers like bet 10 get 30. The following should serve as look at popular movies and their accuracies (or inaccuracies) with casino games.


Vegas Vacation

I know what you’re thinking…and yes, I’m serious when I add National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation to the list. One of the most memorable scenes from Vegas Vacation is when Clark Griswold goes to the “alternative casino” where he could play games not found at most casinos. At this particular institution, Griswold would play games like War, Pick a Hand, Pick a Number, and Rock, Paper, Scissors.

If you planned on getting really good at Rock, Paper, Scissors, thus making a million dollars at the casinos, I’m sorry to tell you that you will be hard-pressed to find such a casino with these games made available to the public. Your time would be better spent focusing on casino standards like Roulette, Blackjack, Craps, and Texas Hold’em Poker.



One of my favourite gambling-based movies is 21. Additionally, it is one of the most inaccurate movies based on a true story. While the strategy of counting cards—as displayed in the movie—is accurate, the storyline itself is far from the truth. This story revolves around the famous MIT Blackjack team, which was formed in 1979.

In an interview with, former MIT team leader John Chang stated, “Starting from the part where Ben loses control at the Red Rock and loses 200K, the movie takes off on a tangent that has no resemblance to reality. Our players were far too disciplined to even think of doing something like that. As I see it, that entire scene is a plot device to end the movie – create a conflict between Campbell and Rosa that leads up to the switcheroo finale.”

In that same interview, he stated, “You might wonder, are the books true? Put yourself in [book writer] Mezrich’s place. He wants to sell books. If he makes up a few lurid details, well, who’s going to object? So, let’s beat up one of the players. In fact, let’s make him swallow a chip. Yeah.”


Owning Mahowny

Owning Mahowny, recipient of numerous Academy Award nominations, is not only in Roger Ebert’s top ten movies of 2003, but is fairly accurate. This movie tells the story of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce clerk Brian Molony. Brian Molony was caught embezzling over $10 million from his employers, in a span of 18 months. The movie, based on the best-selling novel of Monoly’s life, tells the story of a man whom embezzeled to feed his gambling habit at the Caesars Atlantic City Hotel and Casino.

This story gives the blow-by-blow of the slippery slope that comes with gambling additions. While the reality of gambling doesn’t often make for entertainment, this cautionary tale gives it credence, making it not only captivating, but also an amazing film. While most movies try to make scenes of gambling sexy, it is often those that are the most inaccurate.