GenreNewsPlay your cards right: the best TV shows about gambling

Play your cards right: the best TV shows about gambling

There are some things that even the magic of TV cannot replicate.

The atmosphere created by a passionate crowd at a sports game is something best enjoyed in person. The same can be said of nature’s true wonders – the small screen simply cannot replicate the joy of seeing dolphins swimming in their natural habitat.

Another environment that is best enjoyed in the flesh is the casino, with its sights, sounds and emotions only adding to the experience. That said, there have been some excellent TV series set in casinos or the world of sports wagering, and so we thought that we’d celebrate these with a rundown of the best TV shows about gambling.

Breaking Vegas

This fascinating documentary explores those who, shall we say, go the extra mile to win at the casino.

First aired in 2004, the series follows a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students as they look to implement a range of techniques to beat the house – all while casino management try to catch them in the act.

As well as being a fun watch, Breaking Vegas also offers an interesting glimpse at card counting and similar strategies, which can be implemented in a range of poker and blackjack casino games.

Both a cautionary tale and a handy guide, Breaking Vegas is one of the best TV shows about gambling purely because of its educational – and entertaining – content.

Poker After Dark

If you’re a poker enthusiast eager to learn from the best in the business, there is no shortage of TV shows that you can enjoy and take notes from.

The World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour are the most obvious choices, with thousands of the leading players from around the globe all converging in one place to see who will clinch the WSOP bracelets and rings.

However, a more useful learning tool might just be Poker After Dark. The series first aired in 2007 and appeared again in 2017 after initially being taken off the air.

Poker After Dark focuses on one table alone, with specially invited guests – think Phil Hellmuth, Annie Duke and Phil Ivey, etc. You get a more intimate take on the unique machinations of a ‘final’ table as well as the mindset and the tactics of these poker kings and queens.

Poker After Dark also works as a purely TV spectacle, with some big personalities clashing as nerves are frayed heading towards the final hands.

Las Vegas

With a 7.4 rating on IMDB, Las Vegas is perhaps the don of gambling TV shows.

Starring James Caan, Josh Duhamel and Cheryl Ladd, with guest appearances from the one and only Tom Selleck, Las Vegas is set in the fictional Montecito Resort, and focuses its lens on the larger-than-life characters who frequent the casino.

Caan and Duhamel work in surveillance, tracking down the card counters and the cheaters while ensuring that their big-money VIPs are treated like royalty.

Fast paced and entertaining, Las Vegas focuses on the fun side of Sin City rather than its darkest depths, and it’s a hugely enjoyable watch for that very reason. 

Luck

With just one season of nine episodes, Luck was just getting into its stride before it was unceremoniously dumped from the airwaves.

However, if you can track down the 2012 show, you will not be disappointed, with a stellar cast including Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina and Nick Nolte taking a deep dive into the world of horse racing gambling.

While in essence a crime drama, Luck is knowledgeable about its subject matter and offers a glimpse into the world of sports gambling and horse racing. It was met with strong reviews, and it was something of a surprise when it was cancelled due to concerns over the safety of the horses involved. 

King of Vegas

While a pretty straightforward premise, King of Vegas worked well as a TV series because it went beyond just poker – with the players competing in eight different casino games and even horse racing betting throughout the course of the tournament.

The aim was to crown the ‘King of Vegas’, with the overall winner being the chip leader at the end of some rather fraught action, with 10 episodes hosted by legendary boxing commentator Max Kellerman.

Featuring pro gamblers and complete amateurs, the show is again a fascinating learning tool for those hoping to win big in Vegas, and yet it works equally well as a slice of pure sporting drama.

And, spoiler alert, there was a rather unexpected victor at the end of it all…

Liar Game

Adapted from a Manga series of the same name, Liar Game is a Japanese drama show that takes us into the world of a central character who will stop at nothing to be a successful gambler.

First aired in 2007, the show is an epic adventure of glory, failure, corruption and greed. As well as 10 standard-length episodes, there is a mammoth three-hour finale, which sounds like a long time but genuinely whizzes by as the action hots up.

Available with English subtitles, if you can find Liar Game somewhere in the vaults online, it is well worth your time. 

The Casino

What would you do if you had a chance to sell the company you had worked so hard to build from the ground up?

You might refuse all offers to buy you out; you might take the money and start up a new firm; you could probably retire somewhere hot and tropical; or you could do what the feature characters in The Casino do – try to enhance their wealth yet further by starting their own gaming establishment in downtown Las Vegas.

An interesting look at how casinos are operated behind the scenes, you won’t know whether to root for the players in The Casino or grudgingly support the millionaire owners who have followed their dreams.

This 2004 series features walk-on appearances from the likes of Tony Bennett, Andre Agassi and Barenaked Ladies, so what’s not to like?

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