Casino Players through the Ages
The Caesars, Emperors, Ancient Rome - Julius (100-44 B.C.) participated in public gambling during weeklong Saturnalia festival and famously proclaimed, upon crossing the Rubicon River, 'alea iacta est' ('the die is cast'). Augustus (63 B.C.-14 A.D.) played alea (an early form of backgammon) and held raffles to give gifts to banquet guests. Claudius (10 B.C.-54 A.D.) had a special table made for playing dice while traveling in shaky carriages. He was such a passionate dice player that he occasionally summoned men to play with him, having forgotten that he had them executed. Caligula (12-41 A.D.) bet on chariot races and dice games, converted his imperial palace into a gambling house to raise money for the treasury, and played dice on the day of his sister's funeral. Nero (37-68 A.D.) loved all types of sports and games, as well as betting on them, promoted gambling in the imperial palace year round, and risked massive amounts of money on rolls of dice.
Lorenzo de' Medici, Statesman, Italy (1449-1492) - Renaissance politician in Florentine Republic who supported arts and sponsored artists. Embraced card games, some of which he created, and often mentioned casino games la bassetta and il frusso in poetry. He became known as a skilled card game player.
William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania, England-North America (1644-1718) – Quaker who founded the colony in North America that came to be known as Pennsylvania in the United States. A charter for the land was possibly granted to satisfy an unpaid £16,000 gambling debt owed to Penn's father, Sir William Penn.
Voltaire, Writer, France (1694-1778) – A Historian in the French Enlightenment era was an avid gambler. When the French government instituted a lottery that only purchasers of certain bonds could enter, he devised a strategy to take advantage of the entry rules by obtaining bonds allowing maximum entries. He and his investors won a large portion of the lottery money paid out during that period. The government tried to avoid paying him but he won in court. He often played Faro (card game) and Biribi (roulette-type game with numbers drawn from a bag).
Giacomo Casanova, Memoirist-Lover, Venis, Italy (1725-1798) – An adventurer who gambled regularly, preferring Faro. He once lost 5,000 gold pieces in two days in Venice. Casanova was also a notorious womaniser who used his charm to seduce wealthy women into settling his gambling debts. He wrote about gambling in his memoirs, including sessions at Il Ridotto, a wing of Venice’s San Moisè Palace.
John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, England, United Kingdom (1718-1792) – He was a dedicated game player and gambler who played marathon sessions at White's in London. Around 1765, at White's he invented (or popularized) the practice of eating meat between slices of bread,what started as a convenience to keep his hands clean and avoid fouling the cards became known as the sandwich.
George Washington, General/President, USA (1732-1799) - Kept a detailed diary of his wins and losses at cards.
Thomas Jefferson, President, USA (1743-1826) – Gambled regularly during the period of writing the Declaration of Independence. Recorded wins and losses at games like backgammon, lotteries, cross/pile (heads/tails), and various card games.
Jane Austen, Author, Britain (1775-1817) - Writer often used card games in novels to reveal character and personality traits. Novels like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility referred to lottery tickets, quadrille, vengt-un, whist, and piquet games.
Napoleon Bonaparte, General/Emperor, France (1769-1821) – The famous General valued games of skill, strategies of which he employed in battle. He supported casinos in France and helped popularise vingt-un. His nephew, Lucien, became successful gambler.
George 'Beau' Brummell, Fashion leader, Britain (1778-1840) – A friend of King George IV and respected trendsetter gambled frequently and lost. He fell in with the rich crowd and accumulated much debt, ultimately fleeing to Calais to live the rest of his days in poverty.
Russian Novelists - Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) He spent his early years drinking and gambling, consequently he accumulated enough debt to attempt to take a second mortgage on his wife's serfs. He wrote The Queen of Spades on the subject of gambling.
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) Authored The Gambler to pay off casino debts, he focused the story on the much beloved Baden-Baden casinos.
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Joined the Russian Army to escape gambling debts to a publisher incurred by playing billiards. He eventually relinquished The Cossacks manuscript as payment.
Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) Author of Smoke, a book about casinos in Baden-Baden. In unrelated incidents, Turgenev was called upon to rescue Tolstoy and Dostoevsky from losing visits at casinos.
Wyatt Earp, gambler-lawman, USA (1848-1929) & John 'Doc' Holliday, gambler-lawman-dentist, United States (1851-1887) – these two roaming gamblers met in Texas when Earp saved Holliday's life, they then became friends and lawmen. Both were known to deal (profitably and crookedly) faro. Years after the famous 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' and Holliday's death from tuberculosis, Wyatt Earp played a controversial role as the referee of a 'prize fight of the century' in 1896 between Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey. Fitzsimmons, heavily favoured and dominating the bout, was disqualified by referee Earp for a punch below the belt. Few saw the disqualifying blow and later reports spread about a conspiracy to fix the match. Fitzsimmons filed a lawsuit to overturn the referee's decision, leading a California judge to avoid having to make such a decision by ruling prize fighting illegal in the state.
HRH Edward VII, Prince of Wales, UK (1841-1910) - King of United Kingdom and British Dominions and Emperor of India who enjoyed casinos. The Prince of Wales took frequent trips to Monte Carlo, travelling under the pseudonym 'Baron Renfrew'.
Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, UK (1874-1965) - British politician and legendary wartime leader who believed in taking risks in casinos, at games, or in war. Churchill regularly engaged in games of poker, bezique, mah jong, and pinochle. He famously lost substantial money in a poker game with US President Harry Truman and advisors.
Alvin 'Titanic Thompson' Thomas, Gambler, USA (1893-1974) – Road gambler who was known for betting on golf, dice games, cards, billiards, horseshoes, and proposition bets. Thompson was the real-life inspiration for writer Damon Runyon's character of Sky Masterson, the streetwise game player. The character became the basis for the musical and movie Guys and Dolls.
John 'Bet a Million' Gates, Industrialist, USA (1855-1911) - Pioneer of barbed wire that played high-stakes poker and baccarat games. Nicknamed 'Bet a Million' due to winning bet on horse race in 1900 England for $600,000 on a $70,000 stake, though rumours circulated that he won $1 million.
Nick 'the Greek' Dandolos, Gambler, Crete-USA (1883-1966) - Born into wealth and sent to US with an allowance, he was a risk-taker that gambled on horse races. Dandolos won and lost fortunes on cards, dice, and horses. Died broke on Christmas Day 1966, though his legend grew after his death. Now one of the most famous casino players of all time.
James Bond (Ian Fleming & Sean Connery), Fictional character, Britain (1953) – British secret agent created by author (and former secret agent) Ian Fleming in numerous novels. The film adaptations, starting with Dr. No in 1962, have made James Bond one of the world's most valuable movie franchises. Bond engages in high-stakes casino games in several of the novels and films. The first Bond novel, Casino Royale, opens at a roulette table. In the first Bond movie, Dr. No, he plays baccarat. James Bond played black 17 in roulette in Diamonds are Forever. There is a popular story – possibly true but chronologically difficult to believe– that Sean Connery, in 1963 at Casino de la Valle in Italy, made a pair of losing bets on black 17. He bet black 17 a third time, won, and let it ride. The ball landed again on black 17. He let the entire amount ride and the ball landed on black 17 a third consecutive time. He left the casino with approximately £10,000 in winnings. The unlikely element of the story is not the astronomical odds against the same number winning on three spins; it is that he scored this win in 1963, eight years before the Bond character made the black 17 bet famous in Diamonds are Forever.
Presidential Poker - Warren Harding (President, USA, 1865-1923) The then US president played poker twice weekly with cabinet members in highly competitive games and is reported to have lost White House china in a game of high-card. Franklin D. Roosevelt (President, USA, 1882-1945) was a low-stakes stud poker player who hosted regular games during the last night of each Congressional session with the winner declared upon adjournment. Harry S. Truman (President, USA, 1884-1972) was a highly-regarded five-card stud player, held marathon poker sessions with the press while considering atomic bombs attacks on Japan and throughout World War II. He played with Winston Churchill at time of the 'Iron Curtain' speech. Dwight Eisenhower (President, USA, 1890-1969) learned poker and bridge at West Point. He is rumoured to have courted future wife Mamie with his poker winnings. Richard Nixon (President, USA, 1913-1994) learned poker while serving in the US Navy, regarded as a skilled player; he used winnings to fund first his first campaign for a House of Representatives seat.
William Lee Bergstrom, Real Estate, USA (1951-1985) - Real estate agent known as 'The Suitcase Man' and 'Phantom Gambler' due to his random appearances and gigantic craps bets. On September 24, 1980, he arrived at Binion's Horseshoe, Las Vegas and confirmed Benny Binion's policy of allowing players to set their own casino limit with their first bet. He brought two suitcases: one filled with $777,000 and the other empty. He bet the $777,000 on his first craps bet, won, had Ted Binion help him fill the second suitcase, and left town. On March 24, 1984, three and a half years later, he returned, made a single bet of $538,000 at the craps table, won the bet, and again disappeared. He returned for a third try on November 16, 1984, his suitcase filled with $1 million in cash, gold coins, and cashier's checks. He bet the entire million on a craps roll and lost. When he came back a fourth time, on February 2, 1985, he attempted to play in the casino with an obviously forged $1.3 million cashier's check. The next night, at the Marina Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, he took his own life. According to notes he wrote to friends, the root cause of his problems was a romantic relationship that had fallen apart.
Akio Kashiwagi, Businessman, Japan (1938-1992) - Real estate investor who played high-stakes baccarat in American casinos, often betting $100,000 or $200,000 per hand. Entered into disputes with Donald Trump's Atlantic City casino and Aladdin in Las Vegas due to claims the casino’s never held up their end of the deal, Kashiwagi lost $10 million. He was murdered near Mount Fuji at his home leaving behind millions in gambling debts. The murder remains unsolved.
Archie Karas, Gambler, Greece-USA (born 1951) – A famous high roller who began as a pool shark and poker player. Karas built a $2 million bankroll at poker tables, only to lose it in Los Angeles in 1992. Archie famously went on “The Run” and turned $50 into more than $40 million in Las Vegas by the beginning of 1995. Later that year he lost it all by playing poker, craps, and baccarat.
Elmer Sherwin, US Army veteran, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (1913-2007) - Retiree who hit $4.6 million Megabucks slot machine jackpot on opening day of The Mirage in Las Vegas in 1989. 16 years later in 2005, he won his second Megabucks jackpot at the age 92 at Cannery Casino for $21.1 million.
Kerry Packer, Businessman, Australia (1937-2005) – The media tycoon who was known for founding the World Series of Cricket also owned a percentage of Melbourne's Crown Casino. Packer, a high-stakes gambler damaged the bottom line of Las Vegas’ MGM Casino in 1997 by winning $20 million. He also lost $30 million once to a bookmaker in Sydney. Known to some as the 'heavyweight of baccarat'.
Don Johnson, Corporate executive-casino player, USA (1962-present) – CEO of company that designs horseracing software. From 2010-2011, he won $15 million at blackjack from three Atlantic City and New Jersey casinos.
Casino Innovators through the Ages
Alfonso X, King of Castile and León, Spain (1221-1284) – Author of the first gambling guide, the 98-page Book of Games. Mostly devoted to chess and board games but also described dice games, including hazard, a predecessor of craps.
Marco Polo, Explorer, Venice-Italy (1254-1324) – A merchant traveller who introduced Europeans to Asian cultures. Marco Polo is credited (probably incorrectly) for introducing the Chinese invention of playing cards to Venice, from where cards spread through Europe.
Galileo Galilei, Astronomer & Mathematician, Florence-Italy (1564-1642) – Most famously known for his contributions to the Renaissance period including the first academic article about the probability of different combinations on three thrown dice. He undertook the subject on the request of his patron, Grand Duke Cosimo II, of Tuscany.
Giralamo Cardano, Mathematician & Inventor, Italy (1501-1576) – A Prolific writer on numerous subjects and an inquisitive gambler. Nearly a century after his death, discovery and publication in 1663 of Liber de Ludo Aleae (The Book of Games of Chance) contributed to probability theory and understanding of odds.
Blaise Pascal, Mathematician & Scientist, France (1623-1662) – Blaise Pascal developed the first calculator. Around the same time, attempts to discover perpetual motion may have led to the first roulette wheel. Pascal partnered with Pierre de Fermat to develop probability theory as a branch of mathematics and social science. Correspondence with Fermat started as a result of gambling questions asked by Chavalier de Mere.
Francis White, Casino Operator, Britain – Born Francesco Bianco in Italy, he started what became one of London's oldest and most exclusive gentleman's clubs in 1693, originally as a coffee-house-type establishment called Mrs. White's Chocolate House. White's moved to its current location at 37-38 St. James Street in 1755. There it maintained a betting book in the 18th and 19th century known for recording unusual proposition bets. During that period, members also played faro and hazard on the premises.
Edmund Hoyle, Writer, Britain (1672-1769) – Hoyle was a gambling specialist who wrote A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, a standard for numerous card games for hundreds of years. He wrote follow-up books on backgammon, chess, and other games. Highly regarded for game knowledge, leading to the expression, 'According to Hoyle'.
Richard 'Beau' Nash, Bath Master of Ceremonies, Britain (1674-1761) The pioneer of the position of casino host. Richard Nash served as Master of Ceremonies for the spa town of Bath from 1704 until his death in 1761.
Jacques Benazet, Casino Operator, France-Germany (1778-1848) – He operated numerous gambling clubs in France and Germany, most famously Baden-Baden in 1838. Under his leadership, followed by his son Edward and his nephew, the popularity of Baden-Baden as a casino-spa destination soared and remains a top attraction for gamblers to this day.
Antoine Chabert, Casino Owner & Operator, France-Germany (1774-1850) – Owned Palais Royale in Paris before taking over Conversation House in Baden-Baden, where he doubled its number of visitors. Chabert also managed numerous German casinos over his lifetime.
François Blanc, Casino Operator, Germany-Monaco (1806-1877) – With his twin brother Louis Blanc (1806-1854), François became the most famous and successful operator of casinos in the 19th century. The Blanc brothers opened Kursaal in Bad Homburg in 1843, introduced single-zero roulette, and Francois opened the Casino de Monte Carlo in Monaco in 1868. François was so successful he was nicknamed 'The Magician of Monte Carlo' and a legend started that he made a deal with the devil for his astounding good fortune.
Charles Fey, Inventor, USA (1862-1944) – German-born machine developer used his electrical equipment knowledge to invent the first mechanical three-reel slot machines in 1895. His Liberty Bell machine paid a 'jackpot' of 20 coins for lining up three bells.
Herbert Mills, Inventor, USA (1872-1929) – Rival slot machine developer who created his own Liberty Bell machine in 1905 with different features and improvements. Mills Novelty Company then produced the machine in mass quantities.
Benny Binion, Casino Owner & Operator, USA (1904-1989) – Benny Binion ran gambling operations in Texas before acquiring casino interests in downtown Las Vegas in the late 1940s. Renamed one property the Horseshoe and became a leading casino operator. Binion also introduced or popularized innovations like giving free drinks and other 'comps' to players and offering favourable rules and betting limits. With his sons Jack Binion (born 1937) and Lonnie 'Ted' Binion (1943-1998), he established the World Series of Poker in 1970.
Howard Hughes, Investor & Casino Owner, USA (1905-1976) - Eccentric aviator, inventor, and filmmaker who became the largest casino owner and landowner in Las Vegas in the 1960s. Owned the Desert Inn, Castaways, Frontier, Landmark, Sands, and Silver Slipper casinos. Hughes is widely credited with transforming Las Vegas casinos from mob to corporate control.
Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel, Mobster, United States (1906-1947) – The famous bootlegger and gambler, he conceived and oversaw construction of the first major Las Vegas casino, Flamingo, which opened to the public in 1946.
William 'Si' Redd, Investor, USA (1911-2003) – Left Bally, for which he was a distributor of gaming and amusement machines, in 1978. Acquired the company that became International Gaming Technology (IGT) and developed the first video poker machines in 1979. IGT became a global leader in gaming and lottery machines and systems. Under Redd's direction, IGT also introduced progressive slot machines (like Megabucks) and slot machines licensed from popular media like Wheel of Fortune and Elvis.
Kirk Kerkorian, Investor & Casino Owner-Operator, USA (born 1917) - Investor first bought Las Vegas property in 1962, rented to builders of Caesars Palace, and sold land for $9 million profit in 1968. He purchased Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) movie studio in 1969, opened MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas years later, but later sold property in 1986 for $594 million.
Inge Telnaes, Engineer, United States (1930-2012) – Norway-born inventor, engineer, and software developer who created random number generator (RNG) software allowing slot machines to operate digitally. The development significantly increased potential maximum payouts from slot machines, which had previously been limited based on the number of possible outcomes from mechanical reels. Telnaes patented Electronic Gaming Device Utilizing a Random Number Generator for Selecting the Reel Stop Positions in 1984, which was acquired by International Game Technology.
Sheldon Adelson, Investor & Casino Owner-Operator, USA (born 1933) - Entrepreneur quickly became young millionaire through real estate and business development. Bought Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1988 and built Sands Expo and Convention Centre next to it. Adelson laster had the Sands Hotel and Casino demolished to rebuild as Venetian (and later Palazzo), also built Venetian Macau Resort and casinos in Pennsylvania and Singapore.
Sol Kerzner, Investor & Casino Owner-Operator, South Africa (born 1935) - Kerzner purchased and built numerous hotels and resorts globally. He built Western Hemisphere properties including Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, USA, and Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in Bahamas.
Steve Wynn, Investor & Casino Owner-Operator, USA (born 1942) - American casino builder and operator, responsible for revitalizing downtown Las Vegas with 1970s renovation of the Golden Nugget. Wynn built the first new Las Vegas Strip casino in two decades in 1989, The Mirage. He also built Bellagio, Wynn, Encore, and other U.S. casinos, along with Wynn Macau.
Donald Trump, Real Estate Developer & Casino Owner-Operator, USA (born 1946) – Took over family building and development business and became the biggest builder and owner of casinos in Atlantic City during the 1980s. Properties included Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, Trump Marina, and Trump Taj Mahal Casino.
Books Featuring Casinos and Games
Book of Games by Alfonso X, King of Castile and León (1283) – The first gambling guide. Includes description of dice games, including hazard, a predecessor of craps.
Rinconete & Cortadillo by Miguel de Cervantes (1613) – Short story featuring one of the earliest descriptions of the game trente-un (31), a predecessor game to blackjack.
The Compleat Gamester by Charles Cotton (1674) – Influential guide to card and dice games.
Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin (1834) – Short story about Hermann, a German engineer with the Russian Imperial Army, who goes mad from his attempt to learn the gambling secrets of an aged countess. Basis for 1890 Tchaikovsky opera of the same name.
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866) – Legendary Russian novelist Dostoevsky had to finish this story in a hurry – to pay off his own gambling debts. The story involves indebtedness to others and features numerous scenes of gambling at the roulette tables to pass time, resolve problems and rid characters of debts.
Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1876) – The story of Daniel Deronda and Gwendolen Harleth starts with Ms. Harleth losing all of her money at the roulette table. She pawns a necklace to gamble further, but Deronda buys it back and has it returned to her.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953) – The first James Bond novel opens with Bond playing roulette. The roulette table is a frequent setting in the Bond novels, and enthusiasts of the game have even developed a 'James Bond system' based on the fictional superspy's strategy.
Beat the Dealer by Dr. Edward O. Thorp (1962) – Bestselling book about blackjack basic strategy, card counting, and Dr. Thorp's experiences testing his academic theories in casinos, accompanied by experienced casino players who provided advice and bankrolled the research.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson (1972) – Based on trips the author took to Las Vegas and published in two lengthy Rolling Stone articles in 1971. Considered a landmark work in 'gonzo journalism', blending techniques of fiction, journalism, and stream-of-consciousness observation.
The Big Player by Ken Uston (1977) – The first book revealing to the public the secret world of card counters and team blackjack play. Combined Uston's strategies and analysis with casino adventures.
Fools Die by Mario Puzo (1978) – Follow-up novel by the author of The Godfather. Set in Las Vegas at the fictional Hotel Xanadu.
The Eudaemonic Pie by Thomas Bass (1985) – Non-fiction story of a group of graduate students who built toe-activated computers to predict the results of casino roulette games.
Man with the $100,000 Breasts and Other Gambling Stories and Telling Lies and Getting Paid by Michael Konik (1999, 2001) – Two collections of stories by Michael Konik about gambling, gamblers, games, and casinos.
Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich (2002) – Bestselling book based on the experience of the MIT Blackjack Team. Generally characterised as a work of non-fiction, it does include changed names, invented dialogue, composite characters, and altered descriptions of events for storytelling purposes. Bringing Down the House was the basis for the movie 21.
Roll the Bones by David Schwartz (2006) – Comprehensive and lively worldwide history of gambling.
Guys and Dolls and Other Writings by Damon Runyon (2008) – Collection of short stories and non-fiction reporting by Damon Runyon in the 1920s and 1930s. The collection includes the short stories forming the basis of the musical and movie Guys and Dolls and reporting about Al Capone and Arnold Rothstein.
Movies Featuring Casinos and Games
Casablanca (1942)– Most of the film is set in Rick's Café Américain, which has a rigged roulette wheel to benefit the proprietor (Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart). Rick tells a newlywed husband, trying to get money for visas to get to America and escape the war, to bet number 22 on the roulette wheel. He does and wins.
Guys and Dolls (1955) – Based on the Broadway musical, which was in turn based on several Damon Runyon stories, the film version starred Marlon Brando as gambler Sky Masterson. Frank Sinatra, as Nathan Detroit, sang Luck Be a Lady.
To Catch a Thief (1955) – Alfred Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, set at villas, casinos, and hotels of the French Riviera. Grant plays John Robie, a former jewel thief hired to follow Frances Stevens (Kelly), on suspicion that she is currently a jewel thief. In one casino scene, Robie (Grant) drops an expensive chip down the décolletage of a female roulette player.
Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) – A gambling cowboy discovers he is lucky at roulette if he holds hands with a dancer named Marie. Marie, however, does not initially want to hold hands with him.
Ocean's 11 (1960) – Original version starred Frank Sinatra as Danny Ocean, masterminding a heist of five Las Vegas casinos in one night. The film featured the core of the Hollywood 'Rat Pack': Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson and Joey Bishop. Peter Lawford bought the original rights to the story. When he presented the plot to Frank Sinatra, Sinatra joked, 'Forget the movie. Let's pull the job!' During filming in Las Vegas, Sinatra performed evenings at the Sands Hotel & Casino's Copa Room with Martin, Davis, and Lawford.
Honeymoon Machine (1961) – Three men on a naval submarine use their ship's computer to calculate the roulette ball's trajectory at the Venice Casino. Complications arise when their admiral arrives at the casino.
Diamonds are Forever (1971) – James Bond film, based on an Ian Fleming novel, with Sean Connery as James Bond. Part of the story is set in Las Vegas at the (fictional) Whyte House, owned by the reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte. Bond plays craps in this story. One scene takes place on the casino floor at Circus Circus.
The Sting (1973) – One of the most famous movies about games of skill and luck, as well as confidence games ('cons'). It stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford as dishonest players trying to win money from even more dishonest players. A feature of the film is a scene in which Robert Redford's character loses his previously-stolen profits on a fixed roulette wheel.
Lost in America (1985) – The comedy finds Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty as a husband and wife ready to leave their fast-paced lives behind. Just a few days into their new lifestyle of driving a Winnebago cross-country, they stop in Las Vegas and the wife loses all their money at roulette. She bets 22 but, unlike the husband and wife in Casablanca, never wins.
Heat (1986) – Action-adventure film starring Burt Reynolds as a bodyguard in Las Vegas. The film features scenes of Reynolds winning and losing big at blackjack. Based on novel and screenplay of famous screenwriter William Goldman.
Rain Man (1988) – The critically acclaimed film starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise that won four Academy Awards in 1989: best picture, best original screenplay, best director (Barry Levinson), and best actor (Hoffman). The plot concerns a cross-country journey of two brothers, with Hoffman as an institutionalised autistic savant and Cruise as a selfish, abrasive man previously unaware of his brother's existence. They stop in Las Vegas, stay in Caesars Palace, and Raymond (Hoffman's character) uses his mathematic and mnemonic skills to win at blackjack.
Let It Ride (1989) – Set at a racetrack, it is one of the funniest movies ever about the habits, superstitions, and characters in a gambling environment. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, David Johanson, Teri Garr, Robbie Coltrane, and Jennifer Tilly.
Bugsy (1991) - Warren Beatty plays Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel, a mobster from New York who went to Los Angeles to acquire betting parlors on behalf of bosses Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano. A trip to Las Vegas begins a path to creating the first major resort in the city, the Flamingo. Missing funds and cost overruns lead to Siegel's murder. Annette Bening plays Siegel's love interest, Virginia Hill.
Indecent Proposal (1993) - Robert Redford plays a billionaire who sets his sights on a married woman (played by Demi Moore) in Las Vegas. Redford offers $1 million for a night with her, and she accepts to finance her husband's real estate project. Relationships develop and fall apart before she finally returns to her husband (played by Woody Harrelson).
Casino (1995) - Martin Scorsese directed the film that focuses on mobsters Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, who move to Las Vegas to assert control over various casinos. Set in the 1970s and ‘80s, the story gives a peek into the real lives of men like Anthony Spilotro, complete with love, drugs, and the ruthless world of the mob. The all-star cast is headlined by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone.
Croupier (1998) - Clive Owen stars as a writer-turned-croupier in a British film with noir overtones. The casino world becomes invigorating and takes over his life, as well as his romantic relationship.
Run Lola Run (1998) - The German thriller focuses on Lola (played by Franka Potente), who receives a phone call from her boyfriend demanding 100,000DM to save his life. She has 20 minutes to raise or find the money and three different ways to get it, one of which involves roulette. Each 'run' to get the money ends with very different results.
Owning Mahowny (2003) - Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in this critically-acclaimed film based on the true story of a bank worker in Toronto who embezzled more than $10 million in 18 months to play at high-stakes casino games.
Ocean's Eleven (2001), Ocean's Twelve (2004), Ocean's Thirteen (2007) – Series of films based on Ocean's 11 (1960) that start with simultaneous robberies of several Las Vegas casinos. The films feature George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts.
21 (2008) – Film based on Ben Mezrich's Bringing Down the House, a fictionalised version of the experiences of the MIT Blackjack Team.
The Hangover (2009) – Comedy about a bachelor-party weekend gone wrong based in Las Vegas. The movie includes a scene in which Alan (played by Zach Galifianakis), contrary to his generally strange behavior, brilliantly plays blackjack, counts cards, and wins big.
Toy Story 3 (2010) – The popular Disney Pixar film features a scene in which the animated toys establish a casino. A See 'n Say toy is used as a roulette wheel. The stakes are batteries.
Songs Featuring Casinos and Games
Ace of Spades - Motorhead (1980) - cards, dice
Blackjack - Ray Charles (1955) - blackjack
Casino Boogie - Rolling Stones (1972) - casino, Monte Carlo
Do It Again - Steely Dan (1972) - cards, Las Vegas
Draw of the Cards - Kim Carnes (1981) - cards
Gambler, The - Kenny Rogers (1978) - poker
Go Down Gamblin' - Blood, Sweat & Tears (1971) - blackjack, craps, roulette, casino
The House of the Rising Sun - The Animals (1964) - gambling
Junior's Farm - Paul McCartney (1974) - poker
Leavin' Las Vegas - Sheryl Crow (1993) - Las Vegas
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts - Bob Dylan (1975) - casino, poker
Little Queen of Spades - Robert Johnson (1938) - cards, luck
Lonesome Loser - Little River Band (1979) - cards
Luck Be a Lady - Frank Sinatra (1965) - casino, dice
The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo - Fred Gilbert (1892) - Monte Carlo, casino
Poker Face - Lady Gaga – (2008) - poker
Pretty Vegas - INXS – (2005) - Las Vegas
Queen of Las Vegas - B-52s (1983) - roulette, cards, Las Vegas
Ramblin; Gamblin' Willie - Bob Dylan (1962) - cards, dice, poker
Ramblin' Gamblin' Man - Bob Seger (1969) - dice, roulette, gambling
Riverboat Gambler - Carly Simon (1976) - casino, gambling
Roll of the Dice - Bruce Springsteen (1992) - craps, dice
Roll the Bones - Rush (1991) - dice
Roulette - Bon Jovi (1984) - roulette
Shape of My Heart - Sting (1993) - cards
Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple (1971) - casino
Tumbling Dice - Rolling Stones (1972) – dice
Viva Las Vegas - Elvis Presley (1964) - Las Vegas, casino, blackjack, roulette, poker, slots, craps
Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry (2008) – Vegas
We're An American Band - Grand Funk Railroad (1973) – poker
The Winner Takes It All - ABBA (1980) - cards, dice
Proposition bets, generally, are side bets on matters incidental to the casino game or other game at stake. Casino sportsbooks offer numerous proposition bets on secondary aspects of big sporting events. (Examples: Odds of a safety in the Super Bowl, or of the Ring Doctor stopping a championship fight.) Casino games occasionally offer proposition bets on the likelihood of certain combinations of cards or dice appearing.
Personal wagers between bettors (usually dedicated casino-game players or professional gamblers) are a particularly well-known type of 'prop bet'. These bets may seem preposterous (and some are) but prop bets can be revealing tests of the players' physical abilities, knowledge, spirit of play and competition, and handicapping ability. Even though these proposition bets are not part of any casino game (and documentation develops, if at all, from word-of-mouth), prop bets are a fascinating feature of the culture of casino games and the community of game players.
The Caution Against Accepting Prop Bets
Generally, if someone takes an outlandish dare, they will likely succeed. In The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, the famous short story by Damon Runyon (it was the basis for the musical and movie Guys and Dolls), Sky Masterson's father gives him this parting advice: 'Son, no matter how far you travel, or how smart you get, always remember this: Someday, somewhere, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is never broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that the jack of spades will jump out of this deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet him, for as sure as you do you are going to get an ear full of cider'.
White's Betting Book
White's was London leading private club in the 18th and early 19th centuries, included members who would supposedly bet on anything. Tales about members include wagers on which of two raindrops would arrive first at the bottom of a window pane, and whether a wounded person who collapsed in front of the club was alive or dead. White's maintained a betting book where members recorded proposition bets. Most of the wagers concerned speculation on future dates of births, deaths, and marriages. According to Claire Cock-Starkey in The Georgian Art of Gambling (British Museum, 2013), the last entry in one of the books was a wager between Lord Montfort and Sir Jno. Bland on the lives of Beau Nash (the Master of Ceremonies at Bath) and actor Colley Gibber: between Nash and Gibber, who would live longer? White's book recorded, 'Both Lord M. and Sir Jno. Bland put an end to their own lives before the bet was decided'.
The Unsinkable Titanic Thompson
Alvin Clarence 'Titanic Thompson' Thomas was one of the premiere 'road gamblers' in the USA in the early 20th century. He was the real-life inspiration for Damon Runyon's Sky Masterson. Titanic Thompson was a master of proposition bets because he always figured out a way to get an edge. On a regular drive with other gamblers to Joplin, Missouri, he noticed workers erecting a '20 miles to Joplin' sign. Thompson hired a man to dig up the sign, move it 5 miles closer to Joplin, and complained so loudly about the sign's inaccuracy that his incredulous companions bet him, and lost. He won a bet that he could throw a walnut over a hotel roof. (It was a weighted walnut shell.)
The Man with the $100,000 Breasts
Michael Konik, in The Man With the $100,000 Breasts and Other Gambling Stories (1999), revealed the now famous story of how professional gambler Brian Zembic won a $100,000 bet/dare in 1996 by getting and keeping breast implants for a year. He kept the implants after winning the bet and, according to an interview in 2013, still had them.
Other famous proposition bets started as dares are 'exile bets', where someone agrees to go or live someplace for a specified period. These bets tend to be more difficult for professional gamblers than others because (a) a chief attraction of the lifestyle is independence and freedom; (b) professional gamblers spend considerable time in casino environments or other places filled with action and visual and auditory stimulation; and (c) a successful casino player exiled from casinos is giving up income by agreeing to spend time away from casinos.
During the 1990s, a fellow gambler goaded Las Vegas professional John 'Johnny World' Hennigan into proving he could spend a month living in Des Moines, Iowa, an otherwise habitable town that was the opposite of Hennigan's familiar Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City. The wager was for $25,000, Hennigan had to stay within a designated area of Des Moines, encompassing a hotel where he was living, a golf course when he planned on practicing golf, and one bar he assumed would become his hangout. He was unable to make it two days. He hated the hotel, the golf course, and the bar, and had no freedom to find (in Des Moines or elsewhere) better conditions. He phoned the gambler with whom he made the wager, offering to accept a reduced payment because, since he had relocated to Des Moines, he was obviously capable of staying and winning. In the end, he had to pay a negotiated amount to leave Des Moines early.
In 2008, poker players Andrew Robl and Alec Torelli bet Jay Kwik (known as 'Bellagio Jay' for the amount of time he spent at the Bellagio) that he could not spend 30 days living in a bathroom at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Restrictions included limited cell phone minutes and no computer access. He was allowed access to a small DVD player and meal delivery. Robl and Torelli set up a webcam to monitor the bathroom door and offered anyone online $500 for reporting an infraction. After 20 days, they paid Kwik a discounted amount (supposedly $40,000) to leave the bathroom and end the bet.
Two bettors appoint a third person as 'Lodden'. They pose questions to 'Lodden' that require numerical answers. (E.g., the population of Australia, the number of neckties owned by Barrack Obama, the number of books 'Lodden' owns.) 'Lodden' answers confidentially (to a fourth person or on a slip of paper) and the bettors bid on an over-under number for Lodden's answer. The game requires a complex analysis: the factual, objective answer (if there is one); an assessment of what 'Lodden' thinks will be the answer; what the opposing bettor believes will be the factual answer or what Lodden thinks; and the price at which the over-under is set. The game developed its name when a group of poker players invented it at a poker table and appointed Team PokerStars Pro Johnny Lodden as the person on whose answers they would wager. The game eventually incorporates numerous participants: the two bettors, additional bettors who join the game, the person appointed as 'Lodden', and others who may contribute questions.