There's obvious allure in a film like the current box-office hit "21," a sexed-up account of the real MIT students who took Las Vegas for millions at the blackjack tables in the 1990s.
Like the nonfiction book it's based on--Ben Mezrich's best seller "Bringing Down the House"--the film glamorizes card counting, the practice of tracking dealt cards to gain an edge over the house.
The message seems to be, if you can count to 10, you can be a millionaire.
And no one has embraced the message more warmly than Vegas.
"Casinos were lining up to host the premiere," says Jeff Ma, who led the real MIT team and appeared in "21," which was shot at the Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock and Riviera casinos, among other spots on the strip.
Why would casinos like a film that shows them getting scammed?
Because card counting isn't nearly as easy or profitable as the movie makes it look--and Vegas is happy to let you learn that the hard way."This movie is great for Vegas.
It perpetuates the myth that blackjack is beatable," says Ma, explaining that amateur counters will try it and "fall apart at the table." Few people are prepared for the chaos of a real casino.
"There's a hot cocktail waitress walking by, there's a football game on, there's somebody asking them when their dinner reservation is, and the minute they say it's at 7, they forget the count," he says.
Keep up with this story and more Not that card counting is a sham.
Blackjack is a game of probability, and each dealt card reveals valuable information about the remaining cards.
When the count is favorable--meaning the deck is laden with 10s and face cards--the advantage shifts to the player.