The vast majority of movie casino scenes you assume were shot in real casinos were actually sets on soundstages. That’s because never inconveniencing guests is usually a higher priority for casino owners than publicity from a movie that might or might not do well.
We salute the casinos who took a gamble. From the defunct Desert Inn and Riviera, to the still-strong Bellagio, Circus Circus, and Fremont, thank you for making the following (lucky) seven great casino scenes possible by making exceptions to that rule.
7. “A Winner Every Time”
Movie: Diamonds Are Forever
Casino: Circus Circus
Circus Circus provided an exhilarating backdrop of intrigue and action —including a slot-pulling elephant! – to Sean Connery’s sixth and final turn as superspy James Bond.
While the movie isn’t great, this scene — in which the CIA rigs a balloon water race to allow Jill St. John to win a bear stuffed with smuggled diamonds – is a virtual time machine back to childhood for anyone who spent at least a day on the midway in the ’60s or ’70s.
6. “Always Double Down in Blackjack”
Trent (Vince Vaughan) convinces his buddy, Mike (Jon Favreau), that a trip to “Vegas, baby!” is the only possible cure for his recently broken heart. This scene, filmed at the blackjack table at the Fremont, epitomizes the pair’s dysfunctional relationship. Mike, an inexperienced player, unwisely follows Trent’s persistent advice to “always double down on 11.” Of course, you shouldn’t, which is why strangers at blackjack tables worldwide still break the ice by repeating this quote.
5. “Fountain Scene”
Movie: Ocean’s 11
This surprisingly good remake of a 1960 Rat Pack casino heist flick had unrestricted access to film inside the Bellagio. (Producer Jerry Weintraub was close friends with the casino’s then-owner, Kirk Kerkorian.) But its most iconic scene was set on the public sidewalk outside.
Near the end of the movie, the thieves (minus the apprehended George Clooney) gather to watch the fountain show set to Claude Debussy’s “Clare de Lune.” Then, one by one, led by Brad Pitt, they go their separate ways.
4. “Blackjack Scene”
Movie: Rain Man
Casino: Caesars Palace
Tom Cruise (playing a money-obsessed narcissist) discovers that the brother he never knew he had (Dustin Hoffman) is an autistic savant with a uniquely profitable talent. Struggling to pay off $80K in unexpected debt, Cruise escorts Hoffman to where counting cards can pay off big time. Their visit to the casino at Caesars Palace — which begins with an epic down-escalator entrance – ends their money troubles.
3. “Blackjack Scene”
Movie: The Hangover
Casino: Caesars Palace
This is a wonderfully hysterical homage to the Rain Man scene mentioned above. It begins with a ride down the same escalator, with Zach Galifianakis dressed the same way as Hoffman. And, after a similar montage of card-counting and eye-in-the-sky suspicion, it ends with Galifianakis making good on the same unexpected $80K debt.
2. “Bold Advertising Scheme”
Movie: Lost in America
Casino: Desert Inn
In this hysterical scene, Albert Brooks’ typically defeated main character desperately tries talking Gary Marshall’s casino manager into giving him and his wife their money back. That’s after she blows most of their nest egg on roulette at the Desert Inn. Brooks’ argument includes a pitch for a TV campaign advertising the casino’s newfound atypical kindness. (“The Desert Inn has heart!” he sings. “The Desert Inn has heart!”)
1. “Blackjack Scene”
Joe Pesci (playing a thinly fictionalized version of vicious Vegas mafia boss Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro) physically and verbally abuses a series of blackjack dealers who don’t deal him the cards he wants. (The one shown above is played by real-life blackjack dealer Nick Mazzola, the same man who dealt blackjack to Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in Rain Man!) Nearly all of Casino was filmed by director Martin Scorsese at the Riviera. Its casino floor, penthouse, restaurants, kitchen, ballroom and showroom all feature prominently, preserving this relic for the ages.
And actual Riviera guests were filmed gambling at the tables in the background. Scorsese instructed them not to be quiet during filming because he wanted the noise they made to contribute to the film’s authenticity.
Did we leave out your favorite casino movie scene shot in a real casino? Let us know in the comments below!
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