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Casino Casino

Casino Casino (or rather: Casinooooe Casinooe as the northern woman who used to advertise it called it) was originally shown on Challenge throughout December (or was it November? I can't remember) where I managed to miss it loads. However, thanks to a recent bout of having no money (thanks mainly to gambling- ha! not really) I had a good chance to watch a lot more of it.

The basic premise then, 48 people come down to a fictional casino (called, unusually, Casino Casino) for a big casino tournament set by the casino's owner, the actor Bob Mercer. Oh! He's done this sort of being a dodgy gambler bloke thing before I see. In each round four players compete. The winner of each heat gets to go through to the Manager's Office for an exciting Final Wager which if they win should set them up for good stead in the final round. The four best losers go through to the final sixteen as well. The winning quarter finallist and highest scoring runners up go through to the semi finals. The winners and highest scoring runners up go through to the final where the winner could win up to £20,000.

How does a round work then? Well! Everyone begins with 18,000 in chips (and another 2,000 in reserve which they'll get back in the final hand of the game if they haven't had to use it to meet a minimum bet during the show) and you'll motice they're very careful not to use the word "pounds" in association with them. They play three hands of Blackjack with a minimum bet of 1,000. They play two rounds of roulette with a minimum of 1,000. A further three games of roulette with the minimums raised to 2K, 3K and 4K and finally three more hands of Blackjack with a 5K minimum. The winner gets a chance to douvle through in the manager's office. Meanwhile, excerpts of chats between William the Irish bartender and the contestants are interspersed between hands.

Your commentary is provided by Bob and special guest commentator Jesse May (of various poker shows fame). How do you commentate on Blakjack and roulette? Well for BJ you can get quite excited over the size of the bets and then suggest whether someone should stick or hit according to the book. And sound incredulous when people choose not to double down on 11s ("It's a licence to print money!"). Meanwhile Bob says things like "Ooh, a bad card for the house." and "give me a lovely six!" This is despite the fact that that the players are just playing with tournament chips and chances are the house (not actually a proper casino, you know) doesn't really give a damn how well they do really.

Roulette's more difficult to commontate on really as you can only really get excited about the size of the bets. Bob does a reasonable job of explaining the game in about twenty seconds beforehand (the more numbers you bet on with a single bet the less money you will get basically). May does his usual high pitched getting overexcited whenever someone puts 1,000 on a single number and it comes up.

I particularly like the way the show taps into the zeitgeist. The Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels zeitgeist of 1998, that is. We have who is presmuably meant to be a Dodgy Geezer as the manager, we have Lahndahn cockneys everywhere, we have glamourous females as croupiers. We have drum and bass for the theme tune and bass and piano musical inserts. It's ever-so-slightly Trendy with a capital T. It does feel, just a little bit, like it's been produced by someone who's just finished a Media Studies degree with a 2:2. This makes the fact it's been produced by experienced prime time entertainment producer Paul Kirrage a little bit odd, really. EDIT: We got this wrong actually, it's directed by Kirrage, it's produced by Jerry Glover and Simon Goodman. We stand by the comments though!

Those final bets then. The evening's high roller can gamble up to their entire winnings in order to have an advantage in the next round (the way it worked for the quarters is that the highest four scorers from the heats got to start with, I think, 40K, the next four 35K and so on, or something) on a final wager which was different every episode and thus was good. Some of them had a basis in skill (I'm going to shuffle these 52 cards then spread them out over the table. Can you sort them out within 2 minutes 30? Can you guess which of these six diamonds are real?) most had a basis in luck (When my bloke fires a crossbow into this Yellow Pages, will it get through to M-Z or not? I reckon this candle will burn through this rope in one minute 45. Do you think it will be higher or lower than that?). Some were quite visual and others were of the "can you guess which code opens my safe" variety. Most were reasonably fair but one or two were outrageously difficult I thought (how many of these lumps of metal will it take to fill this mould)? I liked the correct and requisite boom note that happened when the wager began.

The Final Wager for the final though fell under the "curmugdeonly" category. The player won £10,000 for winning the tournament and could bet any or all of it on working out which was the correct combination of three different size wine bottles that would fill exactly a fountain of 24 glasses to the brim. Whilst it's fair to say that there were loads of obvious wrong combinations (a normal bottle and two halves, for example) there were quite a few combinations that seemed plausible (and the guy gambles £3K away, correctly acknowledging the challenge's toughness (and in fact only wanted to bet £2K but was goaded on by the Manager) only to get it wrong. SPOILER! Oh.). A far more satisfying end to the series for me would have been on a 50/50 gamble which would be much more enticing to bet a load of money on in a spur of the moment.

I like the way the show's paced. I'm not sure Black Jack and Roulette are interesting games to fill up time in themselves but they're played at enough speed for them not to seem quite dull and roulette splits the BJ up quite nicely and it ends up being quite an enjoyable show to watch. They're rather limited by the choice of games. Blackjack is easy to pick up and explain, Roulette is possibly the most glamourous of casino games. Where else can you go from there? How would you explain every possible bet in Craps in twenty seconds, for example? For this reason it's probably a Very Good Thing that it's only on for half an hour.

In summary then: You can't really play along but what's there plays a good game and is entertaining. Christ, where are my critical facuties these days?