Sports gambling has always been a cultural staple across the globe. It has been romanticized and hyperbolized in Las Vegas and other parts of the world for decades.
Recently, though, the uptick in sports betting legalization throughout the United States has given the industry another, high-volume consumer market to crack. The result has been ultra-extensive use. Americans are betting billions and billions and billions of dollars legally every year, pretty much ever since the Supreme Court in 2018 overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.
The effects of this spending are multifold—and wider spread than people realize. The two obvious consequences: increased revenue for states and gambling operators. Places like New York have already earned over $1 billion in tax revenue generated from sports betting. (Mind you, The Empire State only legalized gambling in 2022!) Trusted and popular mobile wagering sites such as the Bovada sports betting app, meanwhile, have reported significant upswings in usage and, of course, profits over the last half-decade or so.
And yet, there are less obvious consequences from the increase in United States legal sports betting, as well. For starters, pro sports organizations have never been worth more, both in the USA and on a global scale. Lucrative partnerships with sportsbook operators as well as rising levels of interest in sports due to legalized gambling have helped inflate these valuations. As a result of this, pro-athlete salaries are (generally) at an all-time high, too.
But wait! There’s more. The sports trading card industry has experienced something of a renaissance. Ditto for the memorabilia market. The rise in sports betting also contributed to Non-Fungible Tokes (NFTs), many of which come in the form of Top Shot, which packages hallmark highlights as NFTs that you can own and resell.
The effect of legal sports betting we’re interested in most for this space, though. A revival of an increase in appreciation for sports gambling movies. These flicks used to be considered niche—cult classics appreciated by a special group of people. In recent years, however, movies made years and years ago have started to find a new audience. And it’s no coincidence this has coincided with the United States legalizing sports betting en masse since 2018.
Oddly enough, Hollywood hasn’t taken to churning out new sports betting flicks in droves. Not yet, anyway. We would, ahem, bet on that changing in the near future. For now, with interest in the subject at a generational peak, we’ve put together a list of the most popular movies related to sports gambling. Enjoy!
White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
This is one of the movies that isn’t a cult classic; it’s just universally iconic.
Starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, White Men Can’t Jump follows Billy Hoyle (Harrelson) and Sidney Deane (Snipes), two basketball hustlers who team up to con unsuspecting opponents across the courts of California.
Though this flick is about basketball and the money being bet on street games, the relationship between Hoyle and his girlfriend, Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez), quickly steals the show as a compelling subplot.
Billy owes mobsters money, which is why his partnership with Deane is so critical. Gloria wants him to get out of the “game” once his debt is repaid. Can their relationship survive if Hoyle keeps on trying to hustle with Deane? You’ll have to watch and find out.
The Color of Money (1986)
Here, we have another sports gambling movie that actually qualifies as a blockbuster hit. Directed by the legendary Martin Scorcese, The Color of Money follows former pool hustler “Fast Eddie” Felson, who is played by Paul Newman.
While removed from the “game,” Eddie invariably decides to rejoin the racket by mentoring Vincent Lauria (played by Tom Cruise). After the two spend time working alongside one another, Eddie becomes disenchanted with Lauria’s bravado. The duo ends up going their separate ways, a dissolution that prompts Eddie to start playing pool again himself.
True to Hollywood cinema, the two eventually meet up again, this time as opponents. Nearly four decades later, every moment of this movie is worth a watch—from the exposition and rising action to the climax and resolution.
Now we’re entering cult classic territory. Starring Keanu Reeves as Conor, Hardball was not well received by most critics. To this day, it still has only a 41 percent critics score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Audiences have historically begged to differ. Hardball has a 70 percent audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes more than two decades later.
In the movie, Conor, a ticket scalper and gambler, is tasked with coaching a little league baseball team based in one of the toughest parts of Chicago. While he only accepts the gig so his friend Jimmy will help him pay off his gambling debts, Conor ends up bonding with the group of kids he’s coaching.
This flick has a little of everything—drama, levity, tragedy, etc. There’s even a love story arch between Conor and school teacher Elizabeth Wilkins, played by Diane Lane.
Despite having a star-studded cast that included Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich, Rounders was not fully appreciated in its time. Until recently, it was considered a cult classic. These days, it has an 87 percent audience score and 64 percent critics score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Rounders follows Mike McDermott (Damon), someone who has an affinity for poker and is incredibly skilled at it. However, after losing his “stack” to Russian gangster Teddy KGB (Malkovich) amid a bout with misplaced bravado, McDermott promises his girlfriend, Jo, (Gretchen Mol) that he’ll quit gambling.
This promise ultimately doesn’t last. When McDermott’s friend, Lester “Worm” Murphy (Norton) is released from prison, McDermott starts playing poker again to help Worm pay off old debts. Although McDermott nearly succeeds, the two have their “stack” stolen when Worm is caught cheating at a backroom bowling alley poker game run by off-duty police officers.
Worm ends up fleeing. McDermott stays to try to pay off the debt by beating none other than Teddy KGB. Will he be successful? Will his return to poker cost him his relationship? The plot and execution of this movie are truly iconic.
Eight Men Out (1988)
Eight Men Out is a hyperbolized reconstruction of the 1919 World Series scandal that rocked Major League Baseball.
The Chicago White Sox are getting to square off against the Cincinnati Reds for the 1919 championship when they’re approached by a group of professional gamblers that offers them boatloads of money to throw the series. In the year 2023, this probably would not fly. But MLB players weren’t making obscene amounts of money back then, and this White Sox team was underpaid even relative to those standards.
Frustrated by the White Sox’s owner’s refusal to pay what they deem a fair wage, the players agree to throw the World Series. Unfortunately for them, this shady deal is inevitably revealed to the public, putting the players’ careers and legacies in jeopardy.