Casinos in TV and Cinema – A Journey through Real and Fictitious Gambling Venues
With the new season of the popular show Poker Face set to be released, we prepare to get reacquainted with the redoubtable Charlie Cale. This has prompted us to take a deep dive into the number of movies and television shows that feature casinos and find out whether they are real or fictional.
Movies and television shows about gambling are certainly nothing new, and while there are many that are exclusively about this activity, there are also some that feature brick-and-mortar casinos only as a small sub-plot or to illustrate a point in the script.
For many, movies and shows about gambling and casinos represent a sense of excitement; there is somewhat of a glamour about them, especially if there is a gripping storyline filled with suspense, similar to that what you would get from watching some of the biggest poker tournaments. Indeed, there are many that have plots that revolve entirely around this.
As well as the well-crafted writing, casting also has a big part to play in this; the best actors really help to bring the character (and the plot) to life, as is the case with Natasha Lyonne in Poker Face, while the locations also contribute considerably towards this as well.
Susan Rovner, who is the chairwoman of content and entertainment for television and streaming at NBC Universal, recently revealed about the series: “Poker Face is one of those rare, undeniable shows that we all fell in love with from the start, but the critical acclaim and viewer response has been beyond our wildest dreams.”
As a result, below, we have summarised some of the most popular movies and television shows that feature gambling venues, assessing whether these are real or fictional casinos.
It seems apt to start here, and possibly unbeknown to many, the Frost Casino in the series, where Charlie solves her first case, is not actually a real casino.
As of yet, the producers of the show have not revealed whether an actual casino was used in the series; it could well have been a temporary place that was created especially for the show or, indeed, a converted building. However, what is for sure is that the place certainly looked authentic enough to give the impression that it was actually real.
The second season of the show may reveal some clues about this, and just maybe, at some point, a real casino may be featured.
The first James Bond movie of Daniel Craig’s reign as the iconic agent 007, Casino Royale was somewhat different to many others that had come before this, essentially setting a precedent of what was to follow.
From the beginning of the movie, it was evident that gambling was to play a major part in the movie, which concluded with a high-stakes poker game at a casino in Montenegro organized by a banker to a terrorist organization who thought he had everyone’s number until he stumbled across 007.
Certainly, the casino, where a good proportion of the movie was filmed, looked particularly elegant despite not looking like your average gambling venue - no slot machines were in any of the clips and very few (if any) actual tables. It does suggest that this could have been shot in a private or exclusive room, while the bar made this seem real enough.
From the outside, at least, we do know that the hotel-casino is actually in the town of Karlovy Var in the Czech Republic, ignoring to choose a side in the constant battle of Atlantic City vs. Las Vegas. There are also reports that a casino in Estoril (close to Lisbon in Portugal) is also featured in this movie.
The popular Netflix series has many references to gambling, in addition to multiple poker scenes, where the lead character Harvey Specter, is the main protagonist. There are actually a number of episodes where we see Harvey around a poker table, though the locations of these scenes were unknown, the most likely answer is the studio.
However, what we do know for sure is that there is an episode in the first series where Harvey takes protege Mike Ross to a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. With the series being set in New York, though actually filmed in Toronto, Canada, this was somewhat of a field trip for the show’s producers.
In one clip, we see the Atlantic City skyline, featuring Bally’s Casino and then the two characters walking into a gambling venue that looks real enough. It would be reasonable to suggest that the following scenes were filmed in an actual casino in Atlantic City, though maybe using just one or two of the rooms. One of these was where a private, high-stakes poker game was taking place, which was clearly off-limits to the general public.
Arguably one of the most successful and popular movies ever released, this really brought to life the role of the mafia families in the US and the influence that they had on business throughout the 1940s and 1950s.
In the first movie, we see Michael Corleone who “took over the family business” make a trip to Las Vegas to close a business deal, with the main strip in all its glory taking center stage.
The gambling venue featured in this movie was The Tropicana, which was a completely authentic casino, however, due to copyright issues, the name was changed in the second movie to The Tropigala.
Released in 1995, the movie ‘Casino’ became a particularly iconic movie, essentially encapsulating what gambling was all about, featuring an all-star cast including Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone.
While most of the movie was set in Tangiers, Morocco, filming for the main casino scenes took place in the Riviera Casino, on the Las Vegas strip at night, with the defunct Landmark Hotel, nearby used as the entrance to replicate Tangiers.
The movie’s producer, Barbara De Fina revealed that there was no reason to build a set for this, if they could film the movie around a real casino.
Starring an A-list cast which includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, Ocean’s Eleven is arguably one of the greatest casino heist movies out there.
At the time of release at the box office, this was a significantly high-grossing movie, though there have since been a number of questions regarding exactly where this was filmed.
However, there were a number of exclusive locations, especially in terms of the casinos and gambling resorts, which include Atlantic City and the Las Vegas strip, while the Bellagio Hotel and Casino also feature prominently.
A movie that was based on a true story and brilliantly brought to life by the likes of Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth, 21 focused on a group of MIT students who worked out how to “beat the house” at blackjack, using their mathematics skills for card counting.
Throughout, the movie has you on the edge of your seat as you get to see a portrayal of true events and more or less what actually happened.
The casinos in this movie were real and, as a result, featured the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, the Red Rock Casino and the Hard Rock Casino, all of which are on the Las Vegas strip.
Las Vegas - the popular television series, captured the hearts and minds of gambling fans for its clever writing and light nature which explored the lives of workers in a casino.
Aired from 2003 to 2008, though suddenly ending on a cliff-hanger when NBC cancelled the show, Las Vegas used a number of effects and CGI throughout.
Indeed, the Montecito, the casino in the show was fictional, which was designed to replicate the interior of Mandalay Bay.
Rush Hour 2
One that often slips under the radar, while gambling was not actually the main theme of this movie, a casino became the main feature where the climax of the movie took place. Starring the dynamic duo of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, the casino in this was called the ‘Red Dragon’ which is a fictional name.
Despite this, it is evident that scenes were filmed in an actual casino - you had Tucker’s character ‘Carter’ creating a diversion playing (and winning) at a craps table and during this scene it was evident that this took place in a casino.
Indeed, the casino in question was the now closed Desert Inn, based in Las Vegas, though the producers emblazoned the outside of this with a striking ‘Red Dragon’ sign.
Will We See More Real Casinos in TV and Cinema?
This genre has proven to be particularly popular over the decades and it is likely that there will continue to be movies and shows based on casinos and gambling - even if they are remakes.
Whether these are filmed in actual casinos though, will depend on a number of reasons, the main one arguably being budget, however, other factors may come into this such as logistics and timing.
Overall though, it is always worth keeping an eye out for new releases where casinos take centre stage as these often make for entertaining viewing!