Gambling & Popular Media: Gender Representations


Posted: February 21, 2014

Updated: February 21, 2014

Gambling has traditionally been associated with men largely because of its representation in film.

• Our perceptions of the industry are driven as much by film representations as reality

• Film representations of gambling usually involve masculine archetypes like the cowboy, underground card shark and high-roller

• Despite becoming increasingly active in the gambling business, women are usually absent from these representations

The fading but still dominant perception of gambling as a male activity has been a common theme in this series. It has been driven in large part by the fact that men have always gambled in larger numbers than women. But there is another, less obvious reason. Media representations almost exclusively present it as a male activity.

From suit-clad men walking into luxurious casinos to unkempt cowboys in saloons to urban tough guys trading hands in basements, gambling is represented as a hyper masculine activity. It is not for ladies.
Let’s contrast this with how female characters are treated in gambling films. Sure, there are some strong, successful female gamblers represented, but they are few and far between, and still exist to compliment the male characters. Many films omit female characters altogether.

While there is nothing wrong with dramatized entertainment, recent trends make these images increasingly irrelevant. The expanding presence of female gamblers as well as the rise of internet gambling in the US, UK and elsewhere have changed the game significantly. This piece will take a light-hearted look at a few old-fashioned representations, bearing in mind their eroding relevance.

The High-Roller

Let’s start off with a reference that everyone can recognize. Daniel Craig’s depiction of James Bond in Casino Royale. Bond walks into a poker room in exotic Mediterranean Montenegro wearing a sharp white shirt and black bowtie. Who is he competing against? Fabulously rich men from all corners of the globe.

No women sit around the table, although the beautiful Vesper Lind can be seen in the background. Each player scowls at one another intensely, this is the height of masculinity. In the final round Bond decides to make a bold move: “Forty million five-hundred thousand, all in.” The crowd gasps.

While Ms. Lind has an important role in the film, it does not extend to the gaming table. Her specific role in the poker room is to use her beauty to distract the other players. While she is a strong character, there is no place for that on the casino floor.

The cowboy

Perhaps no representation is more masculine than that of the Old West card shark. This is no American internet casino. Holding games in dusty saloons, this tough character is not one to be trifled with. The best example that comes to mind is Clint Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More.

Hear we see old Clint in a cowboy hat and clutching a cigar, slinging cards with a group of unsavory characters. On one hand he lays down three aces, beating his opponents three kings.

Opponent: “I didn’t hear what the bet was.”

Clint (after pausing ominously): “…You’re life.”

One of the best bar fight scenes ever ensues. Clint beats the crap out the man before shooting him and several others. This film teaches that poker is for hard-as-granite killers only. As much fun as we had watching this scene, the card-playing gunslinger is gone, if he ever existed at all.

The underground cardroom hustler

Let’s take a look at the Guy Richie classic Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and its band of London lowlifes. Card shark Eddie loses GBP 500,000 in a rigged game in an underground British poker room.

The hard-luck Eddie and his friends must come up with the cash any way possible, in this case by stealing it. This film is more about bumbling idiots than cold, hard tough guys, but the seedy London underground is the domain of men, not women. The only female character in the film is the card dealer.

While I’m certain that a few of these games are being played somewhere, very few poker enthusiasts will ever see one. Most of us play online, with friends or at the nearest casino. There is a pretty good chance that the dealer will be a woman, but some of the contestants will be as well.

How it works in real life

We enjoy gambling films just as much as the next guy (or girl). There is nothing wrong with a dramatized representation of gambling that isn’t completely accurate. But viewers should bear in mind that this is fantasy, not reality.

Cowboys are relics of a bygone era and casinos are frequented by women now. These days, if you walk into a poker room or blackjack table in Las Vegas you are likely to see a large proportion of female gamblers as well as dealers, pit bosses and executives. In addition, online casinos in the US, UK and elsewhere have further changed the face of gambling.

In reality, there is nothing particularly tough or masculine about gambling. You don’t have to be physically strong or violent to play. You have to be quick-witted. But women can do that as well as men. So watch and enjoy those classic films. But be aware that the game has changed.

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