Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cheating Movies and Kevin Spacey's Film "21"

With the upcoming late-March release of 21, Kevin Spacey’s film about the MIT blackjack team that beat Vegas and Atlantic City for (supposedly) millions at blackjack tables, I’ve been asked what I think of this film and could I recommend any other interesting and exciting films about cheating in gambling casinos.

Well, I haven’t seen 21 yet as it’s not coming out until March 28, but I do have a predisposed opinion based on having read the books it’s based on, Bringing Down the House and Breaking Vegas by Ben Mezrich. Firstly, although the books were entertaining and no doubt highly glamorized to lift them from the dull black-on-white pages onto the flashy silver screen, the subject matter is quite unspectacular. It’s the same old blackjack card-counting story that we’ve heard and seen on TV numerous times and that was made famous enough by the legendary card-counter Ken Uston. I happened to meet two of the real MIT blackjack team members recently at the G2E gaming trade show in Las Vegas, and I can assure you that these guys were more than slightly distant from being glamorous and exciting. Although they weren’t entirely nerdy, neither one ever would have had the slightest chance of joining one of my casino cheating teams.

The main problem I have with the script, just as I did with the book’s manuscript, is that the content is very loosely based on fact. Basically what I’m referring to is the amount of money both the book and movie claim these guys won. No way I believe they won a figure in the multimillions. Casinos have been hip to card counting since the late 1970s, and after Uston’s teams did their number on Atlantic City in the early 1980s, casinos were able to spot card counters at twenty that I mean twenty tables away. This was especially true concerning the very tired counting method known as team play, where big players got signalled into favorable tables by troops of counters. Uston and countless others were doing this about the same time these MIT guys were learning how to walk, so I find it rather difficult to believe that these computer geeks were able to get over on the casinos in such a big way in a really non-computer fashion, as they did not actually use computers in their counting operation. I’d say they were lucky if they made a few hundred grand doing this. But I’m sure the movie will be okay with all the style and spinning glitz, something similar to the “Las Vegas” TV series with James Caan.

Want to see a really good casino cheating movie? No, I’m not talking about mine, at least not yet. My personal cheating favorite is the French movie Les Tricheurs, which means, you guessed it: The Cheaters. This film is about roulette cheating teams in Europe in the early 1970s. One of these teams featured Monique Laurent, the sexy raven-haired beauty in my Cheaters Hall of Fame. Go back to my CHOF page and read about her and the scam, which if you’re unfamiliar with, was one of the greatest scams of all-time and certainly way ahead of its time. The movie can be rented online and it’s surely worth a viewing.

Another good one but harder to find is called the Great Sinner with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. It’ s about a journalist writing about degenerate gamblers in 19th century Europe who becomes one himself and gets sucked into a classy baccarat scam.

If anyone out there knows of other great cheating movies, pass them along and I’ll post them.