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From the Critic's Corner

Dear Mark,
I am looking to rent some movies that show either casino life and/or players in a gambling role. Any recommendations/favorites? Mary R.

Gambling sets, scenes and stories have popped up throughout cinema history, from the back room of Rick's Cafe to the excellent character study of two down-and-out losers in Leaving Las Vegas. So, which films best capture the savor, the tang, the mood and, the heartbreak of the gambling experience?

Below are only my top 10 very subjective favorites, leaving plenty of room for others' top-notchers. What are yours? What would my readers say? Who'll go two-thumbs-up for that terrific film, The Gambler with James Caan or Butch and Sundance? Send in your choices, and I'll do a column on it.

1. Let it Ride (1989) A Damon Runyon-flavored tale of a compulsive gambler who finally hits a winning streak at a Florida racetrack. Richard Dreyfuss is superb, but so is everyone else. I've never been able to figure out which
character I like the best, or was when I hung out at the race and sportsbook.

2. The Sting (1973) Winner of seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, this film features Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two small-time Chicago con men trying to put "the sting" on a high-roller from NYC.

3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995) An extraordinary portrait of two people at dead ends in their lives, Unfortunately, having seen all this from inside the business for 18 years, I found this one hitting home, HARD.

4. Casablanca (1942) Even beyond the gambling, many film critics believe Casablanca is the best movie of all time.

5. California Split (1974) Want to view the emptiness of winning? Some players I know believe it exists. They feel "the action" is the only reward.

6. The Hustler (1961) Dingy pool hall atmosphere is vividly executed in this outstanding film. Paul Newman is terrific as a disenchanted drifter and pool hustler who challenges the legendary Minnesota Fats. (Jackie Gleason) You
might want to follow it up with The Color of Money (Newman once more and Tom Cruise).

7. The Cincinnati Kid (1965) Roving card sharks get together in New Orleans for a winner-take-all, king-of-the-hill, poker game.

8. The Grifters (1990) A bleak but fascinating look at con artists. An adaptation of Jim Thompson's novel, which is one of the best reads of the list submitted here.

9. Lost in America (1985) Going on a road trip that passes through Las Vegas? View this film, then think twice about that stop in the city of Lost Wages.

10. Las Vegas and the Mob (TV) Casino, the movie (1995), is an above average look at mob activities in Las Vegas, but a two-hour television special from the TV show American Justice, "Las Vegas and the Mob," may include some of the best historical gaming footage available. Actually, anything A&E does on casino gambling is definitely worth watching.


Dear Mark,
What is the most played number on a roulette wheel? Brian P.

Ask roulette dealers and a majority will tell you the number 17, followed by the zeros. (0, 00) Foremost reason for 17: It sits right in the middle of the layout and everyone can reach it. Watch movies on gambling and another
number emerges. In three movies where roulette plays an integral part, Casablanca, the Sting, and Lost in America, the only number depicted was 22.

Gambling thought of the week: "It's not luck there's probably no such thing as luck, and if there is you can't depend on it. All you can do is play percentages, play your best game, and when that critical bet comes in every
money game there is always a critical bet you hold your stomach tight and push hard."
Bert, The Hustler (1961)

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