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The Gangsters – Iconic Organized Crime Gambling Greats 

  • Casinos, Card Games, Ruthlessness And Glamour
  • Organized Crime Gambling Movies Ten-A-Penny
  • British & American Cinema’s Different Attitudes
Organized Crime Gambling 
Image source: Magazine Builders, publishers-copyright 1929 via Wikimedia Commons

Cinema has long sought to use gaming in all its forms to texture its work. In some, it is merely a disposable piece of decoration. In others, it is essential. This is nowhere more true than in gangster movies. Shadowy figures, evading US or UK gambling laws, ready with violence at any moment? These make for great screen presence. Albeit with very different style. We look from the organized crime gambling empires of Las Vegas to the seedy backroom card games of Newcastle villains. 

Bernard Shaw said “The British and the Americans are two great peoples divided by a common tongue”. You would, therefore, expect for the cinema in each country to treat subjects very differently. The cultural chasm leaving it impossible for either one to quite adopt the style the other uses. Audiences too have their expectations. So, they may each use it for the same reason, but the portrayal of organized crime gambling couldn’t be more contrasting. The examples are obvious. 

The seminal organized crime gambling movie in the US is Martin Scorsese’s Casino. It distills down all the cultural expectations an audience might have and pours it out in large measure. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci reflect the glamour and vice of Las Vegas, it’s bright lights and dark corners. This very much portrays the duality of attitude to gambling. It is one online betting sites in the UK, like Bet365, still battles in the perceptions of the public. Perceptions created by cinema.

Sam “Ace” Rothstein

“I’m not only legitimate, but running a casino. And that’s like selling people dreams for cash.”

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The glitz and sparkle of Las Vegas is the perfect backdrop for the American gangster. You couldn’t imagine the place without organized crime gambling. The tuxedos and parties, the shallow graves in the desert. It has all but become synonymous with the Mafia. Perhaps that’s why they revere it so much. Casino wears the robes of a historical summary more than gangster movie at times. This is very different from its counterpart across the Atlantic which is altogether more gritty.

Organized Crime Gambling 
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When Michael Caine visits local crime lord Cyril Kinnear in Get Carter it highlights the UK attitude to gambling. Organized crime gambling in the UK couldn’t be further from the glamour of Vegas. Gritty backroom card games between big bluff men, the menace not hidden from view but on full display. The British far less willing to sand off the rough edges. Online sportsbook sites in the UK like Bet365 couldn’t be further from either representation, but the perceptions are cast.

Cyril Kinnear

“Oh, come on, Harry. I haven’t won, have I? Go on. You’re pulling my leg.”

Two Approaches To Organized Crime Gambling 

In other genres cinema grants audiences the satisfaction of seeing successful gambles by heroes or colorful characters. In gangster movies, organized crime gambling seems perpetually frowned upon. Mike Hodges focused on a single game, a grim business Carter sees for what it is. Scorsese takes a far wider view, US cinema far less willing to forego moral judgment. It requires more exposition and with it a depth of scope that relies on far more visual detail than Hodges needed.

Both films are a jaundiced view of organized crime gambling. Most people having a little flutter with a bet on sports in the UK or wherever on sites like Bet365 aren’t gangsters. As a cinema audience, however, they have been conditioned to wish to know they could be. That they’re sharing in a world that at its extremes is both opulent and offensive. The reality probably isn’t either one, but there’s a demand to explore this genre that is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Read more about gambling in cinema’s different genres.

We take a look at the representations of organized crime gambling in two of the best gangster movies ever made.

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