The Marvel Universe is vast, encompassing more than 7,000 characters in a never-ending multiverse. While many of us are familiar only with the cinematic universe that launched with Iron Man in 2008, the franchise includes enormous amounts of source material from the comic books, as well as other properties developed by various studios.
In a world this far-reaching, it is little wonder that casinos appear in many instances. Since Disney took the reins, there has been a concerted effort to sanitize the on-screen action – violent fight sequences are fine, but it seems that casinos are out. The takeover even saw the end of the popular Marvel-themed online slot games.
Even so, many casinos and gambling halls turn up in various movies, TV shows and comic books. Quite often it is the villains and anti-heroes who are caught at the tables, be it Loki playing craps at an unnamed underground location in New York, Gamora brawling in the casino of the desert planet Conjunction, or Deadpool wreaking havoc in Las Vegas.
Casinos are the setting for some of the most fun, interesting and imaginative scenes in the whole of the Marvel Universe. Here are three of our favorite appearances of gambling establishments, both real and fictional.
1. Caesars Palace
We start our roundup with a real-world venue and a likely Marvel candidate – millionaire playboy Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. The iconic Vegas landmark makes an appearance in the very first Iron Man movie, which also happens to be the film that kick-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we know and love today. The story follows Stark’s journey from a slick and arrogant arms manufacturer to the titular metal-suited hero. With most of the arrogance intact.
Our scene occurs before Tony’s transformation, and tells us a lot about our protagonist. He is in town to receive an award for his company Stark Industries, but such honors are of no interest to our man. Despite being in the right city, he would rather be at the casino gaming tables than collecting the gong. Business partner Obadiah Stane, who is to become the film’s main antagonist Iron Monger, accepts on his behalf.
Later we see Rhodey finding his erstwhile friend at the craps table, unperturbed at losing a small fortune and dismissive of the award. As he leaves the casino with his entourage, Tony hands the trophy to one of the casino staff dressed as a Roman centurion, with the words “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”, which is only a slight misquote.
Since Marvel moved wholesale to Disney, there has been some discussion over what is and what isn’t canon in the MCU. One property to undergo such examination is the long-running Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, which ran for seven glorious seasons on ABC between 2013 and 2020. Canon or not, the series had a loyal fan following and at the heart of the show were the lovable duo of Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons.
Starting out as friends and colleagues (“I’m engineering, she’s biotech”), the pair spend the following years falling in love and being separated in various cruel and unusual ways. In the sixth season, Fitz finds himself stranded in another galaxy with no way home. Fetching up on the debauched planet of Kitson, he and his companion Enoch must try to earn enough at the casino to buy passage to their next destination.
This casino features several times over the course of the season, and it’s always a source of peril for our heroes. Fitz must endure a game where the stakes are his freedom, only to get caught cheating when it is revealed that Enoch has an unfair advantage. Then there is the hilarious episode entitled ‘Fear And Loathing On The Planet Of Kitson’, which sees Jemma and Daisy on a rescue mission – only to be thwarted by the space hallucinogens they had inadvertently ingested.
As the girls discuss their friendship and their Hogwarts houses while hiding under a casino table (Jemma is Ravenclaw, natch), Fitz is busy trying to get by in an intergalactic version of blackjack. After our favorite star-crossed lovers are reunited in a later episode, they once more find themselves at the casino on Kitson and in a deadly game where this time it is their lives that are at stake.
The casino on Kitson is probably the one that had the most screen time, but when we look to the comics there is one that stands out – the Casino Cosmico. Not just a casino, this is an entire dimension dedicated purely to gambling, as well as some more violent pastimes. Ruled by the Grandmaster, Casino Cosmico is a very risky place for anyone with a superpower. At the gaming tables here, absolutely anything can be put up as a stake – and that includes powers.
The Silver Surfer had a close call in a comic released in 2016 (Silver Surfer Vol. 8 #7) when he visited the gambling dimension with Dawn Greenwood, the human companion who would later become his wife. The scene at the casino was a great example of the creativity of the comic writers, as items such as memories are won and lost at the tables. At one point, desperately trying to win back the Surfer’s foolishly-wagered surfboard, Dawn loses her ability to see the color red or to pronounce the letter B.
Of course, all’s well in the end, when the Surfer outsmarts the Grandmaster in a final poker showdown. With absolutely everything on the line, including his powers and Dawn’s freedom, the Surfer lays down his challenge; if he loses the hand, the Grandmaster must forfeit the right to ever play another game of chance. Even though he suspects he has the stronger hand, the risk is too great and he folds, allowing Dawn and the Surfer to win back everything they lost. Those are quite some bets by our heroes, unlike real world casinos where people can play for as little as 5 euro, without risking their lives.
What did we miss? Do you have a favorite Marvel story that involves a casino? Let us know in the comments.