The world of gambling is one of glitz, glamour and drama. After all, it’s where anyone can hit the jackpot and have their life changed forever. This has made it hugely appealing to the entertainment industry – and as a result, many films have been based around the events and characters found in casinos. Ocean’s 11, Casino Royale and the more recent Molly’s Game, depict gambling in all its glory.
The other side of gambling has proved equally appealing to Hollywood. Casino gambling, especially in America, has historically been linked to organized crime, and the gangster movies of the 1980s and 90s – for example, Casino and Goodfellas – showed the seedier underbelly of Las Vegas. But while Vegas is often used as a setting, the games themselves are rarely so integral to the plot. The occasional film like Rounders takes viewers on a backstage tour of life as a poker player – but these are considered niche topics, like sports movies, and mainly of interest to those who are already fans.
When it comes to books, gambling doesn’t feature so prominently as a theme. There are plenty of non-fiction guides offering strategies for mastering the different games, as well as biographies of people who have beaten the odds. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more dramatic – something that combines the thrill of gambling with the theory behind the games – there are a few titles out there for you.
Check out our top three gambling books.
Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich
Mezrich has penned many books on a similar theme, but this is the original story that captured the attention of the world. A student at MIT, Mezrich found himself recruited into a small group of gifted mathematicians and engineers who, guided by their professors, perfected a strategy for counting cards in a game of Blackjack. The students took their theory to Las Vegas and managed to successful beat the system and pocket millions of dollars.
As one of the insiders, Mezrich is uniquely placed to explain not only how blackjack is played, but also the mathematics behind counting cards and why the strategy worked. Bringing Down the House is a fascinating insight into gambling systems and math, and it’s carefully explained for a non-specialist audience. It also lets the reader behind the scenes of the glamour of gambling and shows the real-life effects that the lifestyle had on the students – both positive and negative.
The book helped boost the reputation of blackjack, which saw a resurgence in popularity after publication. Drawn to the game by its portrayal, many readers tried to emulate the success of the MIT blackjack team. When the film adaptation was released, there was a similar spike – although this time, gamers were playing blackjack online instead of in land-based casinos.
If you were playing blackjack online in the early 2000s, you’d have found it impossible to count cards – because all the games were powered by random number generators. These days, however, it’s a different story. Live casino blackjack connects players to real-life croupiers, making it possible to count cards through a high-quality video stream. See, in the intervening years, online casinos have become increasingly more immersive and engaging – thanks to innovations in digital technology, and growing market competition.
Today, you can even play at a casino site with a Vegas theme – complete with iconic landmarks from the city and an immersive soundtrack. You might want to play blackjack at what’s perhaps the most unique online casino on the market, so you can feel just like the MIT team did in Vegas while you’re reading the book. Mezrich has gone on to pen a sequel, as well as many other fiction and non-fiction books set in the world of gambling.
Sex, Lies and Video Poker by Bob Dancer
This fictional novel is set against the backdrop of video poker. It’s a racy foray into the world of competitive video poker. Dancer has written non-fiction tutorials sharing the secrets of the game, and his knowledge is evident in the story he tells here. It follows Chris as he takes video poker lessons to impress Annie, a veteran gambler, and his introduction into the world of gambling introduces him to people, places and experiences that are beyond his wildest dreams.
The book was so popular that Dancer has written a sequel – this time based in Las Vegas. Dancer clearly knows the city extremely well, and his knowledge of specific casinos really brings the story to life.
So many novels are written about subjects most people can never experience for themselves – spy adventures, fantasy worlds etc – that it’s refreshing to come across novels that introduce the reader to a world they can go away and take part in. Dancer may not be the most creative writer, but the knowledge he brings to the page – of both video poker and the people and places who go with it – makes the books delightful reads.
Titanic Thompson by Kevin Cook
For a more nostalgic tale, the biography of Titanic Thompson makes for a fantastic read. A travelling hustler in the golden age of American gambling, Thompson would work all over the US, placing bets and making wagers. He would suggest ridiculous, impossible feats – throwing a walnut over a building or driving a golf ball 500 yards was one of his favorites. When he then managed to pull off the trick, usually by some sort of underhand means, he would pocket the cash and disappear.
Surrounding the tale of Thompson is a memoir of a past time: gangsters and prohibition, war and women’s liberation. Famous faces pop into the story as Thompson crosses their paths – movie stars, pro-athletes, and some a little more notorious – and you get a real feel for the history of betting and gambling in the US. It’s really fascinating to see how wagering between people turned into group betting and gave way to the systemized gambling we have today.
The book is incredibly written, cramming the incredible tale of Titanic Thompson into a fast-pace, well-crafted novel that pulls the reader along on an incredible, wild ride through the American yesteryear. It’s a great read for any gambling fans as, rather than focusing on one game, it depicts the range of gaming opportunities that are out there and shows how anything can be wagered on if you fancy the challenge.
Gambling is full of drama. There’s nothing much more thrilling than stories of people who’ve won it all or lost it all on the spin of a wheel or the hand they’ve been dealt. So if you want your next book to be a real page-turner, make sure you check these titles out.