Sports betting is becoming more prevalent as states continue to legalize and launch their own retail and online sportsbooks. And while sports betting itself is starting to enter the mainstream, it’s been popularized in media and film for decades.
Here’s a breakdown of five popular sports betting scenes in movies. There are plenty of films about gambling, whether that’s in casinos or on a basketball court, but for this exercise, the focus was specifically sports betting.
We ranked each movie using five different categories, including:
- How realistic was the wager?
- What is the likelihood you can do the same bet?
- How accurate did the bet play out?
- Was it a sharp bet?
- Responsibility level of the wager
$1,000 No Sweat First Bet
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Late Game Bet in Hardball
If you gambled on basketball, surely you understand the emotions of Conor O’Neill during a late-game situation where free throws will determine whether or not your team covers. You’ve likely had your bet riding on a teenager in college making free throws to cover a spread and can recall the suspense you’ve felt during that moment.
O’Neill makes an exorbitant bet to cover debts he owes to bookies. This is a good reminder to always use a legal and regulated sportsbook so you don’t fall into these sorts of traps and find yourself in a situation like this.
O’Neill is getting +6 on the Miami Heat, who end up fouling down five. As far as the emotions of a bet riding down in the final moments, this scene captures it perfectly. O’Neill is superstitious and willing to do anything for his bet to win, including watching the game from the sidewalk through a window on the bar. Then, when the Heat start to rally when he’s not watching, he continues to look away in hopes it brings good luck. And finally, there’s the elation of a miraculous backdoor cover, thanks to a desperation 3 at the buzzer that would make Scott Van Pelt’s Bad Beats segment on ESPN.
But as far as accuracy for the actual scene, it falls short. The movie came out on Sept. 10, 2001, and in the season before, the Bulls never defeated the Heat by four in the years 2000 or 2001. Also, the player on Chicago who makes the two free throws was named Williams, and there was no Williams on the team then (I thought it could be mentioning Jay Williams, but he wasn’t drafted until 2002).
The final 3-pointer also wasn’t the last play of the game. If you watch it closely, you notice the teams act like it’s a regular basket. Miami starts to run back on defense, and Chicago prepares to take the ball out.
Betting on a point spread is one of the most common bets to make. Hardball earns a five for realism.
Likelihood you could do the same bet 5
Spread bets are available at every legal and regulated sportsbook.
The inaccuracies have been pointed out with the game that was shown in the bar. But Hardball does get credit for having two real NBA teams being shown, and the “Jones” mentioned by O’Neill would have been Eddie Jones, who was on the Heat roster when the movie came out.
We don’t see any insight into O’Neill’s reasoning for placing the bet. He doesn’t get credit for his degenerate tactics.
Instead of paying off his debt to a bookie, O’Neill decides to bet the $12,000 to win enough money to cover a debt and make some money of his own. O’Neill bet outside of his limits, did not utilize bankroll management and put his personal life in jeopardy through uncontrollable sports bets.
The only reason he didn’t get a zero is that after his last bet, he decided to quit sports betting and invest the money into his team and the community.
Point Shaving in Blue Chips
Known for having a loaded basketball cast, including Shaquille O’Neal, Bob Knight, Rick Pitino and Larry Bird, Blue Chips had a key plot element regarding sports betting: point shaving. Coach Pete Bell reviews the game tape of three years after a point-shaving accusation was brought to him. He finds his point guard Tony playing lazy defense and careless turnovers late in the game, allowing State to come back. Western did win by eight but an assistant coach notes, “Guarantee we didn’t cover the spread that night. There must have been heavy action in Vegas. Somebody got rich.”
Unlike Hardball, this is eerily similar to the Arizona State basketball point-shaving scandal that occurred at the same time the movie was released. Blue Chips came out on Feb. 18, 1994, and the first game of Arizona State’s point-shaving took place on Jan. 27, 1994. Arizona State defeated Oregon State 88-82 but did not cover the 14 ½ spread.
The similarities between the scandals goes even deeper. Tony played point guard and wore No. 44, while Arizona State’s Hedake Smith also wore No. 44 and ran the point for the Sun Devils. It was also noted during the year Tony averaged at least 20 points per game, which is what Smith averaged the prior season and was averaging 18 during the season he shaved points. Tony also went off for 25 points, similar to how Smith played well against Oregon State, finishing with a career-high 39 points.
The people who orchestrated the scandal also placed the bets in Las Vegas, betting a total of $500,000 while wagering $9,000 at each location to avoid the bets being reported to the IRS. As the assistant coach in Blue Chips said, there was heavy action in Vegas and somebody did get rich.
The parallels between the point-shaving scandal in Blue Chips and the real-life Arizona State situation are eerily similar.
Likelihood You Could Do the Same Bet 1
Orchestrating your own point scandal is not realistic. And it’s illegal, so you shouldn’t want to do it.
The way Tony ensured his team won but didn’t cover the spread was in a similar fashion to Smith at Arizona State. The film gets credit for showing how a point-shaving scandal works.
We’re not going to reward cheating and categorize it as a “sharp” bet.
Setting up a point-shaving scandal is irresponsible. And while it’s not clear in the film how the bets were placed, the only saving grace for the people who took part in the scandal with Arizona State is that they used legal sportsbooks in Las Vegas. Who knows what would have happened to them if they tried running this through an illegal bookie?
Parlay Bet in Uncut Gems
When I saw the trailer for Uncut Gems, I was excited because it meant we were going to get Adam Sandler actually trying as an actor. Not a romantic comedy or a Grown Ups sequel — you know, the type of film where he can mail it in and cash a check.
Sandler’s performance lived up to expectations with him receiving numerous Best Actor awards. But I didn’t expect a nerve-racking, stressful film revolving around sports betting. Unlike O’Neill in Hardball, who learns from his gambling faults and gets clean, Howard can’t help himself. He pushes deeper until gambling ruins his personal life and creates issues that lead to his outcome. On a serious note, if you’ve ever felt like Howard, you can call 1-800-GAMBLER for assistance.
Howard decides for his final bet he will make a parlay for Game 7 of the NBA Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Howard decides to have his girlfriend fly to Las Vegas to parlay Kevin Garnett winning the tip, Garnett having a combined total of at least 26 points and rebounds and the Celtics winning the game.
For accuracy, I’ve never seen a sportsbook offer a wager on the outcome of a tip. FanDuel and DraftKings offer first-basket props and the scoring method, but I’ve yet to see a tip bet. As for the single-player parlay, I’m not sure there was the player prop market back in 2012 that there is now.
Howard’s $155,000 bet cashes out as a $1,229,000 win. But I wanted to see by looking at similar wagers and checking the line for that specific game if that’s an accurate payout.
When deciding the odds for the tip, I went with -110, which is similar to the coin toss for the Super Bowl. Of course, there are more variables with a tipoff than two simple outcomes as a coin, such as height, vertical, and those factors the bookmakers would consider. But for simplicity, let’s go with -110.
In 2012, Garnett was past his prime but solid, averaging 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. The closest comparison in the NBA right now is Cleveland’s Evan Mobley who currently averages 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. (Want to add something on Mobley props to see how they would compare to Garnett since they average similar numbers).
A player prop combo on sportsbooks can range from -125 to -110, but we’ll use the common -110 and figure the books predicted Garnett to outperform his average.
The Celtics were -5.5 point favorites, roughly a -244 favorite. If you parlay all those with the $155,000, it comes to a $644,440.85 win, not the $1.2 million in the film. To get to a $1.2 million payout, Garnett’s player prop would have to be +230.
The film maintained the actual game’s accuracy, with Garnett leading the team to an 85-75 win while securing 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Except for the jump ball, all the other legs in Howie’s parlay are possible to make. But I’ve never seen the winner of the jump ball offered on a legal sportsbook, so it loses points for that.
Likelihood You Could Do the Same Bet 3
Player props, spread and moneyline bets are all available at sportsbooks such as DraftKings and FanDuel. But the outcome of the tip has yet to be offered.
Uncut Gems used actual broadcast footage from the game Howie bet on. The score, stats and everything were exactly how it played out in real life. Deducted a point because the payout was likely not accurately displayed in the film.
Howie had a connection with Garnett, so he was able to glean information from him and motivate Garnett for the game.
Howie never learns his lesson, as evidenced by the ending. He always pushed beyond his limits when it came to sports betting, ruined his personal life and met the worst outcome out of any character on this list. There are no redeeming responsible characteristics about Howie.
Bookies Go Broke in The Day the Bookies Wept
This film came out in 1939 and was referenced numerous times in sports betting movie lists. Considering when it came out, I wasn’t able to see it. But the overall premise can somewhat relate to today’s modern betting.
New York City taxi drivers decide to pool their money together to buy a racehorse in hopes of turning their luck around at the track. But the horse is useless until it’s discovered it performs well after drinking beer. At long odds, the girlfriend of one of the taxi drivers bets $2,000 on the horse and it wins, resulting in a massive loss for bookmakers that bankrupts bookies all over town. With an inflation adjustment for 1939, that’s equivalent to a $39,820 cashout.
Obviously, FanDuel and DraftKings won’t go bankrupt off of losing $39K, but the books taking a major hit on an inside lock is possible, evidenced by Draymond Green in January.
Green felt tightness in his lower calf while warming up but wanted to participate in Klay Thompson’s return from injury. At 8:31 p.m., the Golden State Warriors announced on Twitter Green would be on the court for tipoff but would not take part after intentionally fouling right away to sub himself out. The game tipped off nine minutes later. Opportunistic bettors were able to hammer and parlay all the under props for Green, who finished with 0 points, 0 rebounds and 0 assists.
According to ESPN, the sportsbooks took millions in losses. Using Twitter for the latest news to parlay props on a mobile device is not the same as a film showing a big win by betting on a drunk horse, but the Green outcome highlights how inside information can lead to a sizable payout.
Betting on a horse to win a race is one of the more traditional sports bets to make. A perfect five is deserving because of the bet’s simplicity.
Likelihood You Could Do the Same Bet 3
The act of betting on a horse to win a race is openly available to bettors, but buying your own horse to wager on it is not entirely realistic. A three seems fair.
It’s a fictional story so there are no extra points awarded for accuracy.
The girlfriend discovered insider knowledge concerning the horse’s performance once it consumes alcohol. This makes it a sharp bet, despite the ridiculousness of the premise.
Really? Do you think anyone deserves “responsibility” credit for betting over $43K in today’s money on a drunk horse?
Combining Dance and Football in Silver Linings Playbook
Despite not having a single sports action scene, I felt it was necessary to include Silver Linings Playbook because of the critical acclaim it received. The film received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, making it one of the most well-received movies with a sports gambling plot.
The only sports-related scenes are when Pat Solitano wears his Eagles jersey and tailgates and is also seen cheering in the crowd. The climax of the film revolves around Pat’s father, who has resorted to illegal bookmaking because he lost a previous wager on the Eagles, making a parlay on the Eagles to beat the Cowboys and him and his son and Tiffany to score at least a 5 out of 10 in a dance competition as the game goes on.
Pat and Tiffany score the 5 and Pat’s father tells them the Eagles beat the Cowboys 44-6 to win back double the money Pat’s father lost on the previous bet.
As far as accuracy, the Eagles did defeat the Cowboys 44-6 on Dec. 28, 2008, which took place four years before the film was released.
The outcome of the bet itself is a five, given how the Eagles did beat the Cowboys 44-6. But how realistic do we feel that Pat’s character could pick up a couple’s dance this quick and score a five? Now we’re asking the big questions.
Likelihood You Could Do the Same Bet 0
Do you have an upcoming couples dance competition you’re set to take part in? If so, you’re halfway there to doing the same bet as Pat. Now, you just need to parlay your target score with the Eagles moneyline and find a sportsbook that would take that action. Yeah, that last part isn’t happening.
The movie deserves high marks in this category for getting the score correct and putting it in a believable timeframe. Not a dance expert, so not qualified to say whether or not Pat’s routine was deserving of the five.
The bet is filled with favoritism. Backing your favorite football team is one side of fandom, but also wagering on your son’s outcome is a whole different realm of biased betting no one should go to.
The theme has been consistent with these movies: Responsible betting is nowhere to be found. Pat’s dad parlaying a dance competition which is based on the opinions of random judges, along with the Eagles, entered new territory on irresponsible betting that I didn’t know existed until this movie.
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Best Sports Betting Scenes from the Movies, Ranked
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