Casino Review


Almost immediately after Goodfellas penetrated popular culture and spawned a generation of millennial auteurs indebted to Scorsese, Universal commissioned Casino. Featuring the same two actors, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, and packaged as a kind of spiritual sequel to his mob epic, the movie promised a similar return on the studio’s investment.

But despite its bravura set pieces, the movie is less about spectacle than it is about a particular kind of institutional grift. It argues that casinos rely on illusions of trust and fairness to persuade their patrons to play. These illusions are reinforced by a system of security that monitors every table, window and doorway. Cameras that resemble eye-in-the-sky devices can be adjusted to focus on suspicious patrons by security workers in a room filled with banks of video screens.

In addition, casinos have an energetic atmosphere designed around noise and light. Champagne glasses clink and people mix together to try their luck at games like poker and roulette. Drinks are readily available, and nonalcoholic drinks and snacks can be obtained for free from waiters circulating throughout the gambling floor.

The movie also reveals the ways that casinos manipulate their patrons to make money, including through high roller rooms, where gamblers are encouraged to spend huge sums in order to qualify for comps. It also reveals that casinos are not as beneficial to the community as they claim to be, because studies have shown that local residents tend to spend more on entertainment outside of the casino than visitors do, and that the cost of treating problem gamblers negates any economic benefits that gambling may bring to the city.