The Last Casino

There is nothing like some good old fashioned loan shark lending enforcement to make a movie about casino betting interesting, and that is exactly how “The Last Casino” starts off. Doug Barnes is a math whiz professor who has decided to use his amazing ability of numbers to provide extra cash in his pocket. However, as is usually the case with someone with great strength, they also have a great weakness, and that is Barnes’ addiction to gambling. With card-counting and borrowing from shading characters, Barnes gets deep in debt to his neck, and then the worst thing happens: casino security figures out he’s card-counting and bans him from the establishments. For messing up, Barnes’ lender puts on the pressure and charges a fingertip from Barnes (actually cuts it off).

Barnes comes up with a solution by recruiting a group of math students to effectively perform the card-counting profit trick indirectly versus him appearing in person at a casino. The professor in distress finds and recruit three students with amazing memory and counting abilities, and he trains them to follow his path with casino gambling. Their first hit nets $1,000 each. The team is now ramped up and off to the race tracks, so to speak.

Of course, a good thing never lasts long. Both Barnes’ lenders as well as casino authorities figure out what’s going on pretty quick and the chase begins. The tempo of the film quickens and it’s a matter of time how fast the team can make money and not get caught before the ruse is up.

Set mainly in Canadian casinos, the film provides a good scenario of the lengths reputable operations go to to protect the “bank” and stop those with advantages in gambling. However, one can’t have people bending the rules without bona fide criminals involved, so the mob lenders add the additional “going to break your fingers if you don’t pay up” element which of course creates the pressure factor.

Realistically, can a trio of college kids outsmart casino professional security long enough to walk away with thousands of dollars? The idea is not pure fiction. It actually occurred with the MIT Blackjack Team, a group of students from Mass. Institute of Technology and Harvard who actively used card-counting to cheat and win at casinos globally. This group with varying players and up to 70 different students involved over its time period ran from 1979 until the 1990s. The story is loosely documented in the fictional film, “21.”

As for “Last Casino,” the movie begins to lose its edge toward the latter half and end as the trio team are under the gun to produce the loan money before Barnes’ deadline. The unrealistic and impossible happens, especially when the students get caught but somehow manage to talk their way out of the situation. That would never occur in real life. No matter what you say, casino operators and law enforcement would book, photo, fingerprint and ID tag every person involved just to have the records. And if it was an illegal operation, the caught culprits would just be eliminated and disappear.

Technical experts and critics of card-counting will also find a number of flaws with the film, but doing so is an overblown expectation. No movie is going to detail out exactly how to go about committing a crime and become a textbook for a bunch of copycats in real life. If you put that element aside, the movie still retains some good entertainment level until the ending wrapup climax. It wouldn’t be a thriller if the team didn’t somehow figure out how to get out of bad straits, but the way they do so is just not realistic enough to be believable.

Are college students as gullible as the trio portrayed in the movie to go and make the casino bets in person? You bet. It’s fun, amazing time to be young and invincible to the real world, which is why, no matter how smart a young person is, they still do dumb things. Money and easy-spending often tend to be big motivators as well as excitement and adventure, all of which Barnes’ finds a way to make attractive to his young proteges. And, again, this did occur in real life with real students, so it’s very plausible as a movie plot line.

So for some interesting entertainment spun from real life stories, “The Last Casino” definitely gets an approved rental pick, but don’t waste big money on this one. And don’t get caught up on the specifics. You will be disappointed in the technical truth department.