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The Casino in Literature: An Untapped Well?

Penny February 18, 2024

Gambling and gaming has been a lynchpin of our media for as long as it has existed, particularly in film and TV. Ocean’s Eleven, James Bond, Uncut Gems, and more have thrilled audiences throughout the years and contributed to the ongoing story that is the casino and betting world. However, while visual media has served the industry fairly well, can the same be said for literature? When we think of gambling featuring in narrative entertainment, our minds will undoubtedly go to the silver screen but it’s unlikely that we will be able to recall a novel. Perhaps it’s the silent nature of the act of reading that stops us from associating gaming with books, but there must surely be some iconic casino stories that have been put to page. Well, that is certainly the case.

Casino Royale

The Name’s Fleming, Ian Fleming

James Bond is possibly one of the most iconic characters to ever grace the casino on the silver screen. Throw a British man (or one Australian model) into a tuxedo, give him a gun, and have him drink a shaken – not stirred – martini and anyone who’s ever seen a movie will know it’s Bond. However, younger audiences that may have been introduced to the legendary secret agent by Daniel Craig’s depiction of him might not be aware that the stone-cold killer was first seducing women and shooting bad guys on the page. In 1953, British author Ian Fleming debuted his career-defining character in the novel Casino Royale. The entire story is focused on Jimmy Bond looking to bankrupt the villain of the piece, Le Chiffre, through gambling. According to The Guardian, upon publication, the nearly 5,000 copies of the book sold out in under a month. A casino-set spy novel was flying off the shelves and set in motion a multimedia franchise that would span decades. To this day, it wouldn’t be controversial to say that it is the ultimate casino novel, especially given how it has influenced pop culture through the years. Even just in terms of direct adaptations, there are three movie versions of Casino Royale, including a parody that was less well received than the 2006 hit starring Craig and Mads Mikkelsen.


Gonzo Journalism on the Vegas Strip

Hunter S. Thompson is a name that will go down in history as one of the most influential figures in writing in the 20th century. He was a pioneer of gonzo journalism, an arm of journalistic writing where the author was often inserted into the piece as a subjective observer, usually in a frenetic and often chaotic style. Thompson’s seminal piece was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A story in which Raol Duke, a thinly veiled allusion to the author himself,  and his lawyer Dr Gonzo travel to the gaming mecca of the Vegas Strip, it caught the attention of gambling enthusiasts and literature fans alike. While the real aim was for the journalist to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race, it devolves into a trip of hedonism soaked in drugs and gambling, with increasingly more incomprehensible scenes as Duke’s binge continues. Much like Casino Royale, this iconic novel was adapted into a fan-favorite movie. Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro played Duke and Gonzo respectively. Its trippy visuals and heightened depiction of Las Vegas was a hit with movie-goers and remains one of Depp’s most well-revered roles. 


A Casino Game in Bloom

In 2017, legendary screenwriter and first-time director Aaron Sorkin released a hit with Molly’s Game, a biographical movie based on the gambling antics of Molly Bloom, played by Jessica Chastain. Bloom had worked for years to become an Olympic skier but an injury stopped her from achieving her goals. That was heartbreaking for her, especially considering her family contains athletes Jeremy Bloom and Colby Cohen. After struggling to find herself, Molly began running illegal poker games in hotels in California after being approached by popular actor Tobey Maguire. This all ended in legal issues, including a year of probation and hundreds of hours of community service. However, it also led to a memoir called Molly’s Game being written and released in 2014. It was a huge success and ultimately led to the wildly popular movie’s release three years later. In an interview with the BBC, Bloom admitted that her life was stranger than fiction and expressed her surprise at the success of both the memoir and the big-screen adaptation.


It’s clear to see that gambling literature may not be as popular as its big-screen counterparts. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t exist and isn’t popular. These three books show just how casino stories can make waves and lead to extreme success. Maybe there will be more to come.

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