Putting Games of Chance in Popular Culture

Rain Man (1988)

It is no secret that online gambling has rapidly grown in popularity.

With estimated global revenue of $66.5 billion by 2020, the industry is absolutely on the right path. While its appeal to a variety of mobile audience continues to grow strong, it was not like this in the past. That is because gambling used to be smoky rooms packed with all sorts of tenacious competitors who want nothing but to hunt the big score. From baccarat to poker to slots to sports betting, the thrill – with a promise to win – was always there.

Since the arrival of the internet and smartphones, everything changed. It has never been the same before. Here are some of the most memorable and biggest moments of gambling in pop culture.

Movies

Have you seen the movie Rounders? It is a poker-inspired film starring John Malkovich and Matt Damon and its plot revolves around a young person who’s torn between studying at law school and chasing his dreams of becoming a poker player in the World Series of Poker. Although the big games do not take place in a casino (in a poker den instead), the spirit of high-stakes gambling is very much felt in the movie. It’s hard not to get swept away by the thrill of the game and it totally makes you want to learn the basics of poker, so, you too could be a part of the excitement.

Another reference of gambling in movies is the Rain Man, a film that perfectly captures the bond of two brothers who explore Las Vegas together. Dustin Hoffman’s character can be seen counting cards to the tune of not hundreds but thousands of dollars. The movie deeply focuses on the brothers’ relationship, but it is not until they spend time dealing and wheeling in the Sin City that their bond is forever cemented. You would not think that such a bond could be made at a poker table, no?

Of course, some modern movies also captivated the true spirit of poker. Perhaps a great inclusion here is the 2006 James Bond entry, Casino Royale. After all, it is hard to think of gambling without thinking of the famous 007 agent in mind. Whether he is gambling cash in roulette or working the entire house, Daniel Craig’s character fully defines what an international man of mystery is all about – one that is cool and suave. Although many would say that other versions of James Bond (perhaps Pierce Brosnan or Sean Connery) did better, it cannot be denied that Craig’s incarnation is the highest grossing. Accumulating £66 million (US$87 million) is surely a win.

Music

If gambling became a thing in movies, so it was in music. And this is thanks to the legendary Jimi Hendrix. In case you did not know, his very own material was used in an online casino game called Jimi Hendrix Online Slot. His popular song Foxy Lady can be heard playing in the background along with an animated version of himself striking the guitar. Whether you are a huge fan of him or poker, you will like the game’s very Woodstock-ish layout that is designed with varying colors and hippie imageries.

But Hendrix was not the only musician who brought the idea of gambling to music. Another example is the classic song The Gambler by none other than the great Kenny Rogers. It talks about knowing “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” While the lyrics clearly talk about life, it is also a direct reference to poker. This is the kind of song that if you start singing (particularly the chorus) other people will be joining you. More importantly, it is a song that you will definitely hear in any casino.

Video games

Ignoring the controversy about loot boxes, there are a number of video games that directly feature themes of gambling. And none of them stand out quite like Telltale’s Poker Night and its sequel. In this game, you are in charge in taking control of popular icons, such as Max from Sam & Max, Heavy from Team Fortress, Strong Bad from the web series Homestar Runner, and Tycho from the Penny Arcade comics. The sequel doubles the fun by allowing you to play another four highly-recognisable characters from other movies, television series, and video games, among others. Although the gameplay does not necessarily come at par with what is called groundbreaking in today’s video game era, the atmosphere and the player banter make you feel like you are really sitting down at a poker table. And while you only control an avatar, the game masterfully creates the true essence of poker.

There is no doubt that pop culture is a reflection of real life and, in most cases, references to gambling. Art indeed imitates life and all of the aforementioned pop culture references reflect this ever-growing pastime.