The History of Gambling Inaccuracies in Film – From The Cincinnati Kid to The Hangover

Gambling has been a source of entertainment for our species for a long, long time. Though there is no concrete evidence to show how long we’ve been gambling as a species, our earliest recorded wagers go back at least 2300 years. And the first online casino opened in the early 90’s. Sites have been reviewing online casinos to make sure players don’t get gypped, like they may have in the past. With that in mind, it comes as very little surprise that with the exception of Prohibition Era, we’ve had gambling films for pretty much the entire history of cinema –the oldest gambling film on IMDB, for instance, is a film called Shooting Craps, released as far back as 1900.


Despite being at least as old as paper, gambling is something which Hollywood has struggled to get right. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but when a movie is woefully inaccurate in their portrayal of how gambling works, it just makes fans place their head in their hands. If you’re looking to get better at your casino games, or if you are looking to analyse these films to see what casino culture was really like, you will be hard pressed to find anything of value. Here are 5 films in order of release date which simply get gambling wrong.

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

We’re starting our list as far back as 1965 with this highly acclaimed film, The Cincinnati Kid. The film starts novice poker player Eric ‘The Kid’ Stoner (Steve McQueen), following his dream of hashing it out with the big boys by playing games of poker which get him in way, way over his head.

The problem with this film is that anyone looking to learn the betting rules in poker are in for a rollercoaster of things just wouldn’t happen. The worst offence comes in that a shocking number of the gambling scenes show characters raising and re-raising in a way that is outside of the rules of poker. Even the high-rollers have rules in place to stop this getting stupidly out of hand – something that director Norman Jewison probably didn’t realise at the time.

Rounders (1998)

In Rounders we have the story of Mick McDermott (Matt Damon) – a highly talented player who lost it all in the world of underground poker. Mick turns his life around and starts at law school, only to get dragged, kicking and screaming, back down into the murky depths.

Unfortunately, despite being highly skilled at the game, Mick doesn’t realise that you aren’t allowed to string bets – increasing a stake immediately after you have placed a bet. Sure it may heighten the drama, but anyone who knows the rules will look at this and raise an eyebrow at how rookie an error that is.

Casino Royale (2006)

Surely a film with the word ‘casino’ in the title knows how gambling works? Not so. In a single scene director Martin Campbell slashes Bonds credibility as MI6’s greatest gambler.

In Casino Royale Bond is sent on a mission to defeat an arms dealer at a game of high stakes poker.
Unfortunately, rather than playing poker as poker actually plays out, Campbell had Bond conveniently win hand after hand after hand during the final showdown. Nobody is that good at poker without magician-level sleight of hand – even the best poker pros lose the occasional hand.

On top of this, after Bond wins the $150m pot he passes a chip from the table to the dealer as a tip.
A generous-looking gesture to be sure – right up until you realise that in poker tournaments the chips have no physical value. From this perspective, the dealer should have made at least a casino 1$ deposit and took part in the game from the very beginning. It’s there purely to mark of value for the people in play, signifying money that will be paid directly into a locked account. If the chip had value, it wasn’t attached to the game – Bond either tried to intentionally (albeit stupidly) tip the dealer with the casino’s own money or he intentionally tipped the dealer nothing in order to be facetious. Either way, that wasn’t cool.

21 (2008)

When it comes to “true movies” that have more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese wrapped in a doily, 21 puts all else to shame. 21 is a film in which a group of MIT students take to Las Vegas in order to win money through the underhanded scheme of counting cards. As a quick overview as to what was wrong, counting cards uses a true count, not a running count; crews of counters don’t walk in and out of the casino as a posse; pit bosses need to know how to count cards in order to get their job; casino security does not attack patrons in Las Vegas’ back alleys and the characters on which this “true story” was based are entirely wrong too.

21 is an adaptation of a heavily fictionalised account of events which transpired – any semblance of how blackjack really looks has long since left the equation.

The Hangover (2009)

Most recently, The Hangover is a comedy in which a group of lads head to Vegas to celebrate the upcoming marriage of one of their friends. While it’s an amusing story in its own right, it doesn’t quite give an accurate portrayal of how card counting works. Alan mouthing the cards that go by, showing the audience that he is counting. Security would see this and Alan would be ejected. On top of this, the maths that Alan is seemingly doing in his head have zero bearing whatsoever on card counting. If he really was working out the square root of ((4×8)/2), he was doing that purely for fun.
Which is doubly weird because the square root of 16 is 4 – there is no challenge in that.

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Mark Meets
Mark Meets
MarkMeets Media is British-based online news magazine covering showbiz, music, tv and movies

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