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Sports Betting in Pop Culture - From Uncut Gems to the Sopranos

Gambling and popular culture, particularly movies, have proven to be an attractive niche over the last couple of decades, with sports betting especially being thought of as alluring. There has long been somewhat of a stigma attached to gambling - sports betting appears to be more widely accepted. However, any kind of movie or television series with sports betting often has an attractive storyline.

What is for sure is that these tend to draw in significant audiences and a lot of interest. Invariably, there is usually a good enough storyline to grab and retain attention, while most people who watch are usually fans of sports betting anyway.

In many instances, the storylines are based around either fictional or real popular athletes in the USA who are secretly selling matches, or around the illegal side of sports betting typically adding more excitement. Also, these movies would usually have somewhat of a gangster/mafia theme to them as well, really adding to the illegal nature of the sports betting.

The US - certainly East Coast locations like New York and New Jersey have been popular locations in terms of where to set these movies due to their common links with the mobs. Throughout this piece, we explore sports betting in pop culture over the years and to what extent it has had an influence on society.

Sports betting in popular movies

Exploring Lesser-Known Gambling-Influenced Flicks

There are of course, quite a few hidden gems that may have slipped under most people's radars over the years, when it comes to sports betting movies.

Released in 2005, 'Two for the Money' is one that certainly falls into that criterion and stars multi-award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey in one of his lesser-known movies. As most films in this genre, the movie does not debunk gambling myths, it even boosts them.

The movie is said to be based on a true story, with the lead protagonist portraying Brandon Lang, a footballer who doesn't make the pros. His instincts as a quarterback and knowledge of the game give him certain anticipatory skills. As a result, he goes to work as a sports betting consultant, more specifically for Walter Abrams (Al Pacino) in Manhattan, New York. Invariably, external sources begin to affect what was initially the 'perfect life' emphasizing the 'too much, too soon' ethos, as things start to spiral out of control and the odds begin to stack against him as questions arise as to whether there is more to his sports betting business than meets the eye.

There is also the movie 'Bookies', which centers on four naive college friends who set up a sportsbook from their dorm rooms. A comedy-drama, this makes for bearable viewing, though it gives plenty of insights into sports betting and what happens when you don't know what you're doing. The movie takes a comic turn when their venture begins to catch the attention of crime syndicates who see the students as muscling in on their business, which makes for engaging viewing.

Another that has, perhaps, slipped beneath the radar in recent years is 'Lay the Favourite', which actually stars a couple of notable names in the form of Bruce Willis and Vince Vaughan. The protagonist focuses on a dancer in Florida who leaves to go to Las Vegas Strip to become a cocktail waitress and falls in with a sports bettor who has a system. Her gift for numbers prompts' Dink' to hire her and the plot unravels with a series of twists along the way encapsulating what turns out to be an intersting sports betting-themed movie.

Starring Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel, among others, a movie that also has elements of sports betting is the niche financial trading movie 'Boiler Room', where rookie 'Seth' (Giovanni Ribisi) is running a sports betting and back-room poker business on the side while he is learning to be a junior broker, at what is a shady financial brokerage.

Role of Blockbuster Movies and TV on Sports Betting

There are of course, those movies and series that have had a major influence on sports betting and which stayed in the limelight for a considerable amount of time.

Arguably one of the biggest gangster movies of recent times and which made considerable headlines for its all-star cast, 'Snatch', starring Jason Statham and Brad Pitt, among other top names, was filmed in England, focusing on London gangs, including violent bookmakers.

It is, more or less, an accurate depiction of 1960s London gangland, with the movie focusing on match-fixing and corrupt sports betting syndicates. As far as movies about sports betting go, this is a gritty insight into how things used to be and could arguably be classed as the ultimate pop culture reference to sports betting in movies.

'Uncut Gems' is another sports betting themed masterpiece we must mention. Directed by the Safdie Brothers, Adam Sandler delivers a riveting performance as Howard Ratner, a charismatic New York City jeweler with a penchant for high-stakes gambling. Set against the backdrop of the bustling Diamond District, Ratner navigates a series of increasingly risky bets and schemes to pay off his debts and secure a valuable gem.

Meanwhile, what is arguably the ultimate series when it comes to the influence of sports betting, 'The Sopranos' has definitely had its say, especially in the US. Spanning nearly a decade and over 80 episodes, the hit series focuses on the mob, particularly the Soprano family and their invariable links to crime, with sports betting rackets being one of its vices.

The Sopranos glamourized sports betting somewhat in the sense that it was still deemed illegal in the States, and the US online gambling market was nothing but a dream during its set period. The critically acclaimed series could have influenced many illegal sports betting rings around the US, some of which may even still exist today.

How Has Gambling in Pop Culture Influenced Society?

It could be argued that sports betting in pop culture has had a significant influence on society - especially movies where this has been prevalent.

Although gang-orientated sports betting rings will likely always have existed and maybe still do today, it is unlikely that movies have had any effect on these. However, it may have influenced the entrepreneurial student to set up their own dorm room 'underground' sports betting business, limiting this to just campus. This may have been even more likely before the widespread evolution of the internet, before it was possible to place bets in offshore jurisdictions such as Curacao.

Over the last decade, we have seen many countries legalise sports betting in a bid to not only reduce crime and anti-social behaviour, which, it could be argued may have been perfectly highlighted in such movies, but also to reap further benefits. As such, while seeing a reduction in certain crimes following legalization, countries have also been able to claim a financial advantage by imposing taxation on sports betting companies, which has been used to improve things like infrastructure.

In this respect, it could be fair to say that sports wagering in popular culture has helped to have a positive effect - especially in countries where awareness was raised. Over the last two years, many states across the US have legalized online sports betting and, as a result, reaped significant financial benefits. In its first month of allowing online sports betting, the state of New York saw over $1.6 billion in bets - a monthly record for any state, highlighting the huge effect that this has had.

New York also posed a notable problem for authorities as well, with many illegal sports betting rings understood to have been in circulation, though following the legalisation of online sports betting, these have effectively become defunct. It isn't a coincidence that most of the movies and series about sports betting, were set in the state of New York.

However, on the flip side, sports betting does present numerous problems - not least that of gambling addiction, which pop culture could have had an influence on. While many jurisdictions around the world are now insisting that gambling companies warn gamblers about the dangers of betting more than you can afford to lose, for many serious addicts, this does not help.

Influence over society

The Future of Sports Betting in Pop Culture

With certain subject matters, there is only so much coverage you can give to them and sports betting is quite a small niche, while being seperate from casino movies, of which there are quite a lot.

As sports betting is now legal in many different countries around the world, the gangster element of sports betting has reduced significantly and barely exists anymore, though Snatch highlighted that there are other angles, such as gangsters being able to fix boxing matches in order to win substantial amounts of money.

As sports betting is now legal in many different countries around the world, the gangster element of sports betting has reduced significantly and barely exists anymore, though Snatch highlighted that there are other angles, such as gangsters being able to fix boxing matches in order to win substantial amounts of money.

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