Blackjack’s Influence on Pop Culture

Visit any casino, and one game that you will be almost guaranteed to find is blackjack. A beloved casino game that touts millions of players worldwide, blackjack has been heavily featured in many pop culture references. In fact, it is the most influential casino game in pop culture, second only to poker.

So, how did this simple card game manage to infiltrate pop culture and influence the masses? Read on as we find out!

History of Blackjack

History of Blackjack

Before examining how blackjack has influenced pop culture, let’s take a quick look at its origins. Many believe that the game originated in France sometime between the 16th and 17th centuries, as the writer Cervantes mentioned a similar game in his novel Don Quixote, which was published in two parts (in 1605 and 1615).

The French game was initially titled vingt-et-un, which translates to 21—the number famously belonging to the game.

Despite being around for so long, the game did not garner much attention. In fact, it was seen as just another casino game reserved for the elites of society. This was primarily because it was played by French royalty, such as King Louis XV’s girlfriend and notorious French emperor Napolean Bonapart.

Things changed in the 18th century when gambling houses began giving players special odds to attract them to play. At the same time, the game found its way across the ocean to the United States and other parts of Europe.

These odds consisted of a bet with 10:1 odds of a player having what was called a blackjack. To get this, players would need the Jack of Spades or clubs (or a black jack) alongside an ace.

After seeing the masses swarming to the game, casinos opted to stop offering special bets—yet the name blackjack stuck, and it is what the game became known as internationally as it spread across countries.

The first legal blackjack game in the US took place in New Orleans at the start of the 18th century. While it is almost certain that illegal plays had been enjoyed in the country before this, there is no proof of these—as one would expect.

However, the game took off in 1931 when the state of Nevada was granted a gambling license. With the massive expansion of casinos in places like Reno and Las Vegas, the game was heavily featured in all new gambling locations.

This inclusion spurred the game’s popularity and has continued to do so as players do their best not to go bust. Nowadays, it is prominent in land-based casinos around the world and the many online casinos accessible from

Popularity in Pop Culture

Popularity in Pop Culture

There is no agreed-upon reason why blackjack has become popular in pop culture since the game exploded during the 18th century. While many other casino games have also been featured in pop culture, blackjack and poker are by far the most prominent.

Two main reasons circulate about why this is the case. The first is that blackjack was initially seen as a game for the elite, unlike poker, which was played far and wide. The game’s adoption by royals in France spurred on this belief and made it something commoners wanted to play.

Napoleon Bonapart also played a massive role in this belief by playing the game whenever he had a chance to, particularly at the end of a battle. However, he prohibited any of his troops from doing the same, claiming it would distract them. How’s that for hypocrisy?

The second reason for the game’s popularity is much easier to explain—the game is simple. Unlike other casino games, which often require a degree of knowledge or skill to succeed, blackjack can be quickly picked up by anyone. It also doesn’t require any unique technology.

This simplicity has made the game something that ‘laymen’ can quickly begin playing and is one of the reasons that it spread like wildfire when it was introduced to the US. Now, let’s look at just a few areas where the game has made its way into pop culture.


As mentioned, one of the first-ever mentions of the popular game was in Don Quixote, a book by Cervantes. Since then, the game has appeared in countless other titles—sometimes in passing and sometimes as a book’s central theme.

Books like The Biggest Game in Town by Al Alvarez focus almost exclusively on the game. This includes the pitfalls of playing it and what makes it so attractive to players. Meanwhile, other titles like The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) have a more subtle mention of the game but use it in a highly suspenseful and effective manner.

More extensively researched books featuring the game include Bringing Down the House (Ben Mezrich). In this book, Ben follows a team of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard as they try to perfect blackjack techniques that will win them millions.

TV Series

TV Series

Moving from books to television, blackjack has often appeared in numerous shows, usually as a simple and common game that can earn players easy money. From Friends to The Simpsons, these appearances have contributed to the game’s popularity.

However, much higher stakes are associated with the game in shows like Suits and Entourage. Entourage, in particular, showed the game as an adrenaline-fueled activity where hundreds of thousands of dollars can quickly be on the line.


It may be surprising that this popular casino game is not limited to print or visual media. In fact, the game has been creeping into catchy tunes and jingles since around 1964.

One of the earliest and most well-known references to the game is in the hit song “Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis Presley. Singing of the wonders of Sin City, the song mentions blackjack as one of the biggest attractions in the city.

Other songs featuring the game include “Blackjack” by Ray Charles, “Blackjack” by Death Grip, and “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. The game is so popular that American musicians Michael Bolton and Jimmy Haslip even started a band named Blackjack!


License to Kill

No game could be considered popular if it hasn’t made its way onto the big screen in Hollywood. Although James Bond has always preferred poker, blackjack has still appeared in these movies—like in the 1989 release License to Kill.

Among the most famous pop culture depictions of the game is in The Hangover. When everything goes south for the guys in Vegas, they decide to count cards in blackjack—and amazingly make off with a pretty penny.

Another movie known for prominently portraying blackjack is based on the book mentioned above titled Bringing Down the House. Although the film is called 21, it follows the same story of MIT and Harvard students as they try to perfect blackjack strategies (including card counting) and break the bank at multiple Vegas casinos.

Other movies that featured the game include Rainman, Wild Card, Last Vegas, Uncut Gems, Night Watch, Casino Royale, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

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