Casino in Popular Culture

The casino. From Las Vegas to Monte Carlo, casino life has captured the imagination and wowed the world for decades. Continually entwined with glitz and glamour, the casino has long had a starring role in popular culture, from real life to the front pages of newspapers, from works of literature to the cinema screen.

A wide variety of casino games have been immortalised in the creative arts. Card games tend to be most commonly depicted, due to their thrilling blend of skill and chance. Blackjack, poker and baccarat all frequently appear in movies and TV shows, as do other games like roulette and slots.

Here we take a look at some of the most notable examples of when the casino has been celebrated in popular culture. See how many names you recognise. If you haven’t seen or heard any of the examples we mention, why not seek them out for yourself? It might end up enhancing your online casino experience with us here at Betway Casino.

Notable Casino Players

Let’s start where most stories begin: real life. Away from the fictional (or even ‘based on a true story’) worlds of films and books, the casino still has the capacity to enchant and reach into our day-to-day life.

Poker is now a professional occupation, with plenty earning their living by travelling around the world or even by playing online. It’s frequently televised and has prize money in the millions. Multi-million casino wins are less frequently heard about – not because they don’t happen but because players often choose to keep them a secret to avoid unwanted attention.

However, there are plenty of famous casino players from throughout history who certainly did make the press. One of the most notable players is a Greek-American called Archie Karas. He recorded the longest and largest winning streak ever documented: between 1992 and 1995, he turned $50 into an incredible $40m.

In terms of the online world, look no further than 2015 and a man called Jon Heywood. He won a world record €17.9m when playing online slots with Betway, the largest online slot jackpot payout ever.

There’s also a historical precedent for famous gamblers. Henry VIII may be best known for his string of wives and reformation of Great Britain, but the English king also liked to play cards and dice games. In the space of two years, he was said to gamble away £3,250 playing cards (a lot of money in those days), and rumour has it that he lost the bells of Old St Paul’s Cathedral on a throw of the dice.

In the 1800s, Alice Huckert (known as Poker Alice) became one of the American frontier’s most famous figures, travelling around casinos and saloons and winning a small fortune. She’s just one of the many famous female figures who made their name and their living in the gaming world.

The Casino in Films and on TV

The thrill of the casino has been depicted on the big screen countless times, as well as being the focal point in dozens upon dozens of TV shows. More often than not, films tend to explore the glamorous nature of high-end casinos – and there’s no more famous example than James Bond. The iconic British spy is an expert card player, frequently involved in casino games where there’s more than just money at stake. Dr No, Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, GoldenEye and Casino Royale are just some of the films with casino outings for 007. 

More often than not, when a casino features in a movie, it means one thing: Las Vegas. Sin City is famous for its dazzling casinos and crazy lifestyle, and plenty of films have set out to capture that. The Hangoverfranchise is based largely in Las Vegas, as is the suave and sophisticated Ocean’s Eleven series, starring the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.

Oscar-winning films such as Rain Man and Leaving Las Vegas also make use of the Nevada city, as does Martin Scorsese’s aptly named epic: Casino.

A feast of TV shows also highlight the casino’s lure, from dramas like Las Vegas to dedicated reality shows and live televised events. And of course who could forget the Friends episode where the gang go to Vegas to visit Joey, or in The Simpsons where Homer shows Ned Flanders “the right way to live” by whisking him away to Sin City where they unknowingly marry a pair of waitresses. Of course, this is the crazier side of the casino – you can rest assured you won’t be at risk of any such blunders when you play at Betway Vegas, Betway Casino or Betway Live Casino.

The Casino in Books and Literature

While there are fewer immediately recognisable works of literature that centre around casinos than in film and television, there are still plenty of examples to be found.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s short novel, The Gambler, follows a young man in the 19th century who bets large sums of money in a casino playing roulette. Loser Takes All by Graham Greene is set in Monte Carlo, while Casino Royale is Ian Fleming’s first ever James Bond novel and features an unforgettable game of baccarat.

Al Alvarez is credited with having a big part in bringing the game of poker to a wider audience, thanks to his short book, The Biggest Game in Town. The book is notable because rather than focus on analysing the game, it centred on the characters who inhabit the world of professional poker.

Perhaps the most famous casino-related book of recent times, though, is the heftily titled: Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. Written by Ben Mezrich, it tells the true story about American university students who used card-counting techniques to win millions of dollars from Las Vegas casinos when playing blackjack. It was made into a Hollywood movie called 21,starring Kevin Spacey.

The Casino in Music

Casino life has also permeated musical culture. Pop songs through the years have delved into the world of slots and blackjack, roulette and poker. In fact, casinos themselves often provide grand stages for bands and singers to perform live – Las Vegas casinos in particular are known for hosting shows by huge names such as Britney Spears and Celine Dion.

But in terms of musical – and cultural – icons, they don’t come much bigger than Frank Sinatra. The actor and singer appeared in the original Ocean’s 11 and had a string of hits including ‘Luck Be a Lady Tonight’ which marries the themes of gambling and love.

This is a recurring theme when it comes to songs about casinos. ‘Tumbling Dice’ by The Rolling Stones, ‘Roll of the Dice’ by Bruce Springsteen and ‘The Winner Takes It All’ by ABBA are all examples of artists using the language and concepts of the casino to describe something more personal and emotional.

There have been plenty of literal musical examples too. Ray Charles’ ‘Blackjack’ and Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’ both delve into casino life, while in ‘Ace of Spades’, Motorhead sing about probably the most famous of playing cards.

But the song that captures the energy and excitement of stepping into a casino more than any other could well be ‘Viva Las Vegas’ by Elvis Presley. The flamboyant superstar released the song in 1963, a year before the release of a film by the same name and starring Elvis himself. In the words of the song:

Oh, there's blackjack and poker and the roulette wheel
A fortune won and lost on every deal
All you need's a strong heart and a nerve of steel
Viva Las Vegas, Viva Las Vegas.

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