Casinos and gambling have long been embedded in our culture. Retail casinos may seem like a twinkle in the eye of an eager Vegas weekender, but the fact is there are casinos in many US states, thanks in part to commercial casino licenses and in much larger part to Native American tribes who operate some of the country’s biggest, flashiest casinos.
Online casinos are the next frontier, and some states are ahead of the curve. Six states—Michigan, New Jersey, West Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware, and Pennsylvania—have legalized online casinos in some capacity. Others are trudging through the legislative process with intent to legalize, and yet others are in the very early stages of bringing online casinos to bettors.
New York online casinos are a distinct possibility, for example. The Empire State already legalized sports betting to great success. Online casinos in NY could bring a huge revenue and tax boost to the state. As legislators in latent markets see the success of online casino states, the idea of legal platforms in their own states looks ever more appealing. Suffice it to say, we could see a big online casino boom in the coming years.
Though online casinos remain a fantasy for many eager bettors, one pop culture industry takes no issue with latching onto the casino craze: Hollywood. Casinos have been a favorite subject of many directors, actors, and producers. Over the years, the cinema industry has churned out numerous top-tier takes on the gambling world. Today, we’re giving you our top five favorite casino movies.
Best Casino Movies
Casino, Directed By Martin Scorsese
This Scorsese-De Niro team up is one of the most iconic casino movies of all time. Look, it’s right there in the name! The 1995 film is loosely based on the story of Frank Rosenthal, a handicapper sent by the Chicago mob to run a handful of Vegas casinos.
Casino sees main character Sam Rothstein (De Niro) unofficially running the Tangiers Casino (a fictional property, but the movie was filmed at the now-defunct Stardust). Rothstein enmeshes himself in Vegas culture. He falls for (and soon marries) a hustler named Ginger, and they have a child together. He starts and hosts a talk show from within the casino. He meddles in the casino’s affairs and descends into a life of vice and looking over his shoulder. What happens at the end? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie for yourself.
Casino is iconic for its Scorsesean depiction of mob life, its dark look at the underbelly of 1980s casino operations, and stellar performances from its entire cast, which counts among its ranks De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, and James Woods. It’s the quintessential mob movie with a dash of dazzling casino pastiches thrown in for good measure.
Casino Royale, Directed By Martin Campbell
Casino Royale had to carry a heavy burden. Tasked with adapting Ian Fleming’s Bond novels while separating itself from the campy Brosnan-era Bond films, Martin Campbell and co. had to reinvent a beloved character for modern sensibilities. I think it’s safe to say: nailed it.
How do you make an action flick feel new and fresh? Two answers. First, PARKOUR. That opening chase sequence remains unmatched in film today if you ask me; Daniel Craig (and whatever stunt workers/coordinators were involved) stuck the landing both literally and figuratively. Second, you plunge the world’s most capable spy into a high-stakes game of poker.
Action is easy. Not physically or administratively easy, but easy to expect from a Bond movie. We keep our eyes peeled for setpieces, explosions, and the like. Casino Royale earns its stripes as both a Bond film and a casino film by letting the story breathe. Bond’s poker game against terrorist-funding Le Chiffre is one of the tensest moments in any Bond film, possibly in any action film.
Beyond the feel of the scene in question, how cool would it be to sit among those high rollers and play for thousands of dollars per hand? It’s not my speed, but hell if it isn’t fun to watch.
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Directed By Terry Gilliam
The casino trifecta! Drugs. Gambling. Gonzo Journalism. Nobody? Okay, fair. But Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas earns a slot (pun intended) on this list, thanks to its psychedelic depictions of the drug-addled side of America’s gambling playground. Based on the book of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, Fear And Loathing packs a wallop.
Is it a bonafide casino film? Maybe not. But it has some relatable scenes if you’ve ever been on a Vegas bender. I hope, for your sake, that you aren’t indulging in the same substances as Raoul Duke (the fictionalized “protagonist” of the film). Even if you stick to the free drinks at the blackjack table or other legal options, you might experience the glossy-eyed kaleidoscope of colors and sounds like Depp’s character does in his pilgrimage through the Strip’s locales.
It’s a dark, dark comedy, but there’s an element of truth to it, making Fear and Loathing a shoo-in for any casino movie list.
Ocean’s 11 (1960), Directed By Lewis Milestone
No disrespect to George Clooney and his band of heisters, but the original does it for me. Starring five members of the Rat Pack—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford—Ocean’s 11 earns an easy spot on this list.
The Rat Pack became Vegas royalty for their performances at the Sands. Ocean’s 11 cemented the group, translating their talents to the big screen. The crew plans to rob five Vegas casinos at the same time. Only one of those casinos (the Flamingo) remains operational as a casino today. They plan the heist for New Year’s Eve, amidst the city’s raucous celebrations. Any casino movie list has to include at least one heist, doesn’t it? Well, here’s your heist.
This Ocean’s 11 ends with a comedic bang, separating it from its 2001 remake. Highlights from the 1960 version include that final scene (which I won’t dare to spoil here) and Sammy Davis Jr. singing Eee-O Eleven.
I have to admit, though…the 2001 Ocean’s 11 has a distinctly different vibe from its predecessor, and although it doesn’t get its own spot on this list, it’s still a fun watch.
Now You See Me, Directed By Louis Letterier
Magic and casinos are inextricably intertwined in our collective consciousness. Vegas is as synonymous with magicians as it is with slots and table games. Cards are tools employed by dealers and stealth-of-hand masters alike. There’s a certain “magic” to the way a casino operates, and casinos themselves often contain traces of magic and illusion both within the performances that take place in them and on the casino floor in general.
Now You See Me pumps that idea to its maximum. The Four Horsemen (each of them magicians) are mysteriously bequeathed hologram technology, which they then use to perform a show at the MGM Grand. Not all is as it seems, though. The magicians teleport an audience member into a Paris bank vault, which is later found to be empty of all its riches.
Perhaps there’s some symbolism to be had here. Gamblers might dream of draining a casino’s bankroll with a big, flashy win.Even if you choose not to read it that way, Now You See Me proves an excellent combination of magic and casinos, two industries locked in constant orbit with one another.