Rounders Teaches us About Responsible Gambling Before it Was a Thing

Do you remember Rounders, and iconic Matt Damon role which was probably the most recognizable role in his early career (and the role he really wanted to escape from)? If you don’t you should watch it, because it is one of the best casino movies of all time. IMDb rates this movie with 7.3 which is decent, while Rotten Tomatoes has it at only 65%. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining movie, and if you are a Texas Hold’em player, you must watch it.

The Movie in Short (Spoilers Alert)

This movie is all about a young New Yorker Mike McDermott (portrayed by Matt Damon) who is paying for his law school by winning at Texas Hold’em poker. The movie starts with Mike losing a huge hand to the Russian guy nicknamed Teddy KGB, portrayed by amazing John Malkovitch. After losing $30000, Mike decides to stop playing poker, and focus on his studies. However, fate had other ideas for him.

His best friend, Worm, has problems, because he owes a huge amount of money to mobsters, and the only way out is, of course, poker. So, Mike starts playing again to help his friend. There are lots of funny, serious, iconic scenes in this movie, which depict the friendship of the two young guys above all else, but this movie speaks a lot about gambling and gambling addiction.

Rounders Has All Types of Gamblers

Apart from being an interesting movie depicting gamblers, Rounders is actually much deeper than that. The movie speaks about gambling addiction and the possibility of ruining your life if you let gambling take the control over you.

However, since everything is depicted as glamorous and adrenaline rush from winning might even make a random viewer to try something like that himself, you have to look through that layer and evaluate the characters and why their behavior is important.

Mike is a very talented player, and his mind is constantly working, analyzing the behavior of his opponents, while calculating his odds in every single round. He was influenced by the book Super System written by the poker legend Dale Brunson (he is still an active professional player, and among the best, which is insane!). However, Mike is influenced by adrenaline rush, and despite trying to play conservatively, he can’t help going all in for the biggest prizes.

On the contrary, his friend and mentor Joey Knish (John Turturro) is a player which should be an example for all poker players. Joey pays his bills and supports his family by consistently earning money by playing poker. Joey never overextends, he folds when he needs to fold and raise when he needs to raise. This is good in a long run, but if he plays against the same people, it is almost impossible for him to win anything, because other players know how he plays, and they will just fold when he starts to bet more money, especially on the flop. But, for casinos and different groups of people every night, that strategy is the most viable and the most consistent.

On the other hand, Mike’s best friend Worm is not talented at all! He is just a conman, which put these two in bunch of dangerous situations. But Worm doesn’t care. He doesn’t play to win, he doesn’t even mind losing, he plays for the thrill and for the chance to trick his opponents.

By looking at these three characters we can see a clear distinction between them. The best out of worst is clearly Joey, who is a professional player who is stable and conservative and he is always trying to stay in the realistic realm of possibilities. This is a role model for other casual and professional gamblers, but like in this movie, even some players might respect their mentors and predecessors, the biggest probability says they will follow adrenaline way more than their mind, even if they have an extensive knowledge about poker.

Mike is in the second group. He is talented, knows much about poker, there are no secrets for him, but in some situations he will over-extend and find himself in a difficult situation, just like the one where he lost $30000 in just one hand.

Worm is, of course, the worst of them all. And what’s even the worst story ever is that the most of the casual gamblers are still like that. Even when you watch the movie for the first time, you cheer for Worm and sympathy with him, and you just don’t think about his actions which are fundamentally wrong.


How the Movie Promotes Responsible Gambling

Of course, responsible gambling, at least in a way that is known to us today, didn’t even exist back in the day when this movie was recorded. However, the core principles behind it always existed, and that is easy to proof. If Worm can’t control himself and always seeks that ultimate adrenaline rush, he tells us that we mustn’t act like that or we will have huge problems – losing money we can’t afford to lose, and then gambling more to get the money back. That works only at movie screen, so the first moral of the story is – never overextend and paying the money you can’t afford to spend.

When it comes to Mike, we have a clear conflict in mind and body. He wants to quit and he would probably even do that, if Worm didn’t have life or death situation. So, Mike put the needs of his friend in front of his needs, his playing style and literally everything, just to help his friend.


Rounders is truly an epic movie which teaches us a lot. At first glance, that’s a movie about poker, which is interesting and not very complex, packed with action from the start. But, more important stuff are hidden below – individual characters of all the participants and how they react by playing a game of poker. Never play with money you can’t afford to lose is the most important lesson we got from this movie.

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