Product Review: Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians

While the MIT black jack team is the one that gets all of the attention based on the book and movie about their exploits, there are other black jack teams out there operating in the world’s biggest casinos. One such group is a group of evangelical Christians who have taken down millions over the years.

The documentary, Holy Rollers, gives a behind the scenes look at the world of card counting and black jack.

If you’re not used to hearing card counting and evangelical Christians in the same sentence, don’t feel alone. I too was very curious how the group would reconcile their business with their morals. Especially considering the backlash from religious-based anti-gambling groups who are putting up a fight against legalizing online poker. Unfortunately, their answer seems to come down to demonizing the casinos for making money from gambling.

The reason I say, “unfortunately” is because I was hoping for something deeper, more philosophical in their reasoning. Instead it was sort of a Robin Hood, steal from the rich to give to the poor, logic without the “give to the poor” part.

And that’s okay. Hey, if you can legally take money off the casinos, good on ya. It’s the whole trying to reconcile gambling and your faith part that never came together. It’s just too weak of an argument and a little too convenient for people making considerable amounts of money from their activities. I was left wondering how supportive their friends and family would have been if the winnings had been more modest.

Ultimately, their faith ends up having a bigger influence on how they structure the team and the team rules than it does on anything else. Their common Christian beliefs draw them together and define the high ethical standards expected of the members.

That said, it’s really an excellent documentary with high production value. The story is compelling and paced well. A fact attested to by the numerous film festival prizes the doc has won.

Overall, this is one of those types of films that is gambling related but is entertaining and interesting whether or not you’re a gambler. And it does an amazing job at telling the story without coming off as overly preachy.

It lacks the Hollywood storytelling of 21 (about the MIT black jack team) but that’s a good thing. You get a backstage pass into the real roller coaster ride of high stakes black jack. You don’t just win endless amounts of money card counting. Holy Rollers documents the ups and downs of gambling for a living. The variance, the emotional swings, the team conflicts, are all part of the game and director Bryan Storkel shows the good with the bad.

I think most professional poker players can relate to this story. Black Jack players experience many of the same highs and lows as do most poker players. Seeing the team struggle their way through things like convincing their friends and family that they’re not a bunch of degenerate gamblers is sure to resonate with a lot of people who make a living from something most people don’t understand.

Even though the story is about black jack players, I think most poker players can appreciate card counting since both require many of the same skills and discipline. That’s why I recommend Holy Rollers for anyone who wants a peek behind the curtain of a what the gambling life is about. If there’s one thing you can say about this film, it’s honest. It doesn’t glorify or malign gambling. Storkel steps back and just lets it all play out on the screen.

Definitely pick it up if you get a chance. Even if you’re a stone-cold atheist, you can’t help but find some of the moral and ethical dilemmas thought provoking on many different levels.

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Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.

One thought on “Product Review: Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians”

  1. I was very surprised to hear about the evangelical faith promoting card counting. I thought their morale obligations would override financial gain- although I see the logic in some of their arguments. Card counting in general is a debatable topic and Nevada in particular does not welcome it. I look forward for to watching the documentary regardless- thank you for the post.

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