EDITOR’S NOTE: “Vegas Myths Busted” publishes every Monday, with a bonus Flashback Friday edition. Today’s entry in our ongoing series originally ran on Aug. 14, 2023.
In the Oscar-nominated 2003 movie “The Cooler,” William H. Macy portrays a downtown Las Vegas casino employee whose job is to reverse winning streaks. Bernie Lootz — get it, lose? — has such extraordinary bad luck, all he needs to do is sit next to a guest experiencing good luck and it stops.
Actor William H. Macy sells an urban legend in the 2003 movie “The Cooler.” (Image: Lion’s Gate)
“No job like this can exist today in Las Vegas,” Anthony F. Lucas, a professor of casino management at UNLV and former gaming industry operations analyst, told Casino.org. “Many in-house procedures and external regulations are in place to ensure randomness is present in the production of the outcomes on all games.”
Employing someone to alter the random process of statistics would qualify as cheating.
Players would not patronize a casino that is known, or even rumored, to cheat,” Lucas said. “And if caught, consequences such as heavy fines, possible loss of the gaming license, and catastrophic PR fallout would all be likely.”
In addition, Lucas said, casinos need big winners, because “they provide valuable marketing.”
Most importantly, though, there’s no such thing as good luck or bad luck.
“What many people don’t understand about randomness is that it includes both hot and cold streaks,” Lucas said. “Therefore, there is no need to bring in someone to affect the game — even if someone could — since it will recover on its own.”
Were Coolers Ever a Real Thing?
“The Cooler” didn’t take place in modern Las Vegas, though. It appears to have been set in the past, sometime before its 2003 release date. (Reno subbed for Las Vegas to give it a smaller feel.)
William H. Macy, as Bernie Lootz, does his thing at a downtown Las Vegas blackjack table in “The Cooler.” (Image: Lion’s Gate)
Before casinos completely understood and placed their faith in the mathematics of the house advantage, some of their operators were as superstitious as their customers. For example, it wasn’t unheard of for pit bosses to carry rabbit’s feet, cross their fingers during tense craps rolls, or wear their lucky shirts to work to ensure a profitable house run.
In this environment, the concept of a casino cooler certainly seems plausible.
However, an extensive search of newspaper articles and books about Las Vegas from the ’50s through the ’80s turned up not a single reference to anyone employed by a casino to impose bad luck on a live gaming floor.
There was a concept called a “casino cooler.” However, it referred to a rigged deck of cards (aka a cold deck) that cheaters would attempt to introduce into play to turn a table game’s odds in their favor.
Cooler Heads Prevail
The premise of “The Cooler” was borrowed by screenwriters Wayne Kramer and Frank Hannah from one of many false beliefs held by some of the heaviest casino gamblers of yesteryear.
While it certainly is possible for a casino employee with an unsettling look or habit to have been seated next to a winner to distract their thought process and throw their game off, all such stories are highly suspect, at best.
“Heavy gamblers are often very superstitious,” Lucas explained. “So if they’re winning when someone else happens to join the table or a dealer switches out, they are tempted to interpret these random events as the casino trying to mess with their luck.”
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