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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Breaking Vegas (History Channel)
Breaking Vegas (History Channel)
A&E Video // Unrated // June 29, 2004
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Shannon Nutt | posted October 29, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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THE DOCUMENTARY

If there's anything that I enjoy watching on The History Channel more than a good Civil War or World War II program, it's the frequent specials they do on the city of Las Vegas. Having been there several times myself (and planning to go again quite soon), there's something about the city that lures you in with its big dreams of hitting the big time. Sure, deep down you know that the chances of becoming an instant millionaire on one's visit to Vegas are absolutely astronomical…but that doesn't stop almost each and every person I know who has gone there from thinking that this time might bring them their lucky break.

Breaking Vegas examines a team of M.I.T. students who, in the early 1990s, had a better plan on how to win big in Sin City. Instead of taking their chances on random luck, they honed their skills at Blackjack and the method known as "counting cards" – not exactly illegal, but something the casinos in Vegas frown upon…and something they'll kick you off the premises for if they catch you doing it.

Without getting into the finer details of it, counting cards is rather simple (assuming the casinos are only using one deck…which few do anymore to make counting more difficult) – for each low card that appears during a deal, you add a point…for each high card that appears you subtract a point…the higher the positive number, the more likely the chance that a "high card" (a 10 or better) is going to appear next, meaning it's time to bet more, since there's a greater chance the dealer will "bust" (go over 21). You see, it's not illegal, since what you are doing is making an educated guess on what card is going to pop up next…but since you now have an advantage over "The House" (i.e. the casino), Vegas has long frowned upon "card counters" in their buildings.

The M.I.T. group ultimately didn't make out that well. Originally, they formed an investment group, where investors raised a million dollars to use as betting money. Then the founder of the group – known as "Mr. M" – hand picked M.I.T. students that he could train in the intricacies of card counting. Once he had the group properly trained, it was off to Vegas (and other casinos around the world) to start putting their card counting theories into play. At one point, the group was actually "up" over $800,000 in profit…but a losing streak (remember, as good as you are at card counting, you're still making a guess) brought them back down to earth at the same time the group started to make some silly mistakes in the casinos.

As elaborate as the M.I.T. group's plans were, the errors they made seem rather obvious and silly. For example, they came up with some truly unbelievable backgrounds for the people they were pretending to be (example: a Russian student – clearly the best card counter in the bunch – told dealers in the casinos that he was an arms merchant!), and "Mr. M" was obsessed with keeping records of everything that the group did. If there's anything I've learned from watching crime-dramas all my life, it's that you never, ever leave a paper trail!

But the real downfall of the group was due to that basic failure that hits us all when we visit Las Vegas…simple greed. They didn't know when to stop and, as a result, wound up with virtually nothing. So remember…when visiting a casino, if you win $100 or more, don't push your luck. In the end, the house always wins.

THE DVD

Video:
The video is presented in the full-frame format, although viewers will notice that much of the dramatic recreations during the film are shown letterboxed (although obviously non-anamorphic). This is about what one would expect for a DVD transfer of a television program. Nothing spectacular, but nothing distracting and no obvious pixilation or compression problems.

Audio:
The audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby, which is more than suitable for a documentary of this type. No noticeable problems with drop-outs or glitches in the audio.

Extras:
Not so much an extra as it is the second-half of a double-feature, the DVD also includes the 90-minute documentary High Rollers: A History of Gambling In America, which is a nice overview of the development of the city of Las Vegas and its gambling roots.

Also on the DVD is the 21-minute Conquest: How To Win In Las Vegas, where a gamling expert takes two guys around a casino and shows them how to increase their odds at winning. If you're looking to take a trip to Vegas and plan to try your luck at some table games, this program would be a good starting point.

THE BOTTOM LINE

As with many of the specials you'll see on The History Channel, Breaking Vegas proves to be both educational and entertaining. If you're a frequent visitor to Las Vegas or just enjoy gambling in general, this is a DVD worth picking up.
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