Holy Rollers (2011) Movie Review

Blackjack hand

Playing at the table

Subtitle: The True Story of Card Counting Christians. Directed by Bryan Storkel.

Holy Rollers posterI’m safely assuming that many Christians and non-Christians find any gambling unwise. For the former, it’s a soul-tainting sin. For the latter, gambling’s only fit for morons.

If you have an interest in the gambler’s lifestyle or Christianity then you should watch Holy Rollers. Rollers allows insight from several important team members. The conflicts of the players are explored and also we get to see the casino’s point of view. Members of the Church team varies in the love of the game of blackjack and balancing that with devotion to the Lord. I think the Church team members genuinely want to live a God-centered life. Whether they can do that in practice is where Rollers gets its drama.

Hiding moneyIncluded in the movie are basics explanations of blackjack and card counting. We also discover how the Church team is structured. There’s repetitive work to be done. Playing 21 is drudgery, not degeneracy. The goal: closing a bankroll which means profiting $100,000. When that’s achieved, the team have a dinner and split the money.

The many angles of the existence of a Christian card-counting team are addressed. How can the member remain Christian while doing a gambler’s work? What happens when a non-Christian joins the team? How do the members handle the inevitable losses and downswings?

Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians – Trailer from Connell Creations on Vimeo.

The tactics and experiences of the Church team are similar to any other card-counting team. There are discussions of handling money, training and testing players to keep their skills sharp, and the usage of deception such as disguises and using a player card with a different name in one instance. Unlike a parody of Christianity, none of the members re-enact church services or shout “Hallelujah!” inside casinos while playing.

Ben's disguises
The many faces of Ben, including being a MIT professor.

The Church team reconciles their activities is by placing themselves as opposition to the casinos. If the players can take away from those awful places then that money can be put to good use. However, there’s no explicit footage showing members putting their profits to use for charity or other godly purposes.

The filmmakers helped me realized that I would feel uncomfortable with the activity. Beyond the fact that card counting is against casino rules, here are my reasons:

  1. Carrying and sneaking many thousands of dollars across the country would make me feel like a lowly esteemed person.
  2. Card counting requires a lot of coordination among members to minimize the house’s edge.
  3. The constant traveling would be mind-numbing.

Listen to This American Life segment about the card counting team.

Scoring 21 with Ace and Jack
In explaining 21, Jesus is NOT King, but a Jack.

My gaming preference is online poker where it’s an individual pursuit where many good players know skill overcomes luck. Unlike online poker, in live blackjack the player would have to face the casino experience. That may include smelling alcohol, viewing scantily-clad women, and getting the tempting rush to keep playing with your chip stack in view. I wouldn’t be lured into the big lights of Vegas, but I can see that Rollers will lure an audience desiring a conflict-heavy and competently made documentary.

Decision: Recommended

Image Credits:

Some images came from the Holy Rollers official Facebook page.

Author: Clarence

Webmaster, editor, writer of Red-Headed Mule. RHM was founded in 2011. Currently is liking British TV better than U.S. TV, mayhaps.