Nevada Casinos and Gambling in the Movies

Cacophonies of color, sound, and movement, where an instant's action can change a life—Nevada casinos are ideal settings for screen stories. Even as gambling and casinos have filtered into almost every state ending Nevada's decades-long monopoly, Las Vegas reigns supreme as the iconic place for winning or losing a fortune. Movies gain visual excitement with a shot of the Strip that moves into one of the city's unique themed operations.

While reasons to go into casinos include fine dining and elaborate shows, gambling remains the key motivation and plot focus in films and on television. Understanding the whole phenomenon of gambling is the main concern of some projects, while many use a big win or loss as a gimmick to move the plot forward.

Winning helps with practical matters in Star Man (1984) at Las Vegas's Station, Rain Man (1988) at Caesar's Palace, and The Wizard (1989) at Reno's Peppermill, three road pictures where a character runs out of money and needs funds to continue a journey. At first, winning helps Las Vegas casino magician Nicolas Cage make a basic living in Next (2007), though his rare ability to see about five minutes into the future eventually calls unwanted attention to him. Winning is an eye opener for Sally Field at Harvey's Lake Tahoe in Surrender (1987), where an instant fortune makes her reconsider her wealthy partner's desire for a prenuptial agreement. Winning at the Reno Hilton (now Grand Sierra Resort) also changes life for George B (1997), bringing him more than his share of false friends.

Losing affects action for characters in Lost in America (1985), Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), Indecent Proposal (1993), and Tomcats (2001). Lost in America features a classic segment with Julie Hagerty playing 21 at the Desert Inn and losing a carefully nurtured nest egg. Honeymoon in Vegas and Indecent Proposal both feature chronic losers who bet their lovers in Las Vegas and discover that people are worth a whole lot more than money. A loss at the Hard Rock Casino forces a Tomcat to become a matchmaker so he can pay his gambling debt with the proceeds on a years-old bet that he'd be the last bachelor in his group of friends.

Losing blends with gambling as a way of life for projects that sanctimoniously preach about its perils, implied in such titles as The Lady Gambles (1949), Dark City (1950), The Lady Pays Off (1951), The Only Game in Town (1970), You Ruined My Life (1987), Fever Pitch (1985), and Going for Broke (2003).

More rounded views of gambling as a way of life come with projects like Lucky You (2007), Hard Eight (1996), and The Cooler (2003). Another, The Gambler (1974), shares a title (but not plot) with a Fyodor Dostoevsky story. Playing an English professor, James Cann explains that a gambler is someone who rebels against the reasoning that 2 and 2 always equal 4. Dostoevsky and the gambler reserve "the sacred right" to believe that, maybe tomorrow, 2 and 2 will equal 5, a possibility that makes the future intriguing.

The different logic of gambling is also examined in California Split (1974), though star Elliott Gould says the Robert Altman film covers much more. "Don't take it literally," says Gould. "The picture's a metaphor about survival, about keeping the spirit alive. The picture is about staying in action."

Writing another story about a gambler, The Runner (1999) had a surprise payoff for Henderson resident Anthony Zuiker, who used his own experience working in casinos as a springboard for the story. Going straight to video, the project failed to become the box-office hit he dreamed about, but copies got around and served as a calling card to get him meetings with producers such as Jerry Bruckheimer. The video opened doors for Zuiker to pitch a television show that would blend cops and science, and the result—C.S.I.—turned out to be a bigger winner than anyone expected.

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