By Don Simpson | February 28, 2012
Director: Bryan Storkel
A group of devout Christians — led by Ben Crawford and Colin Jones — realized that they could devote more time to their spiritual calling by learning to count cards at blackjack tables. As pastors, church leaders and/or congregants, the members of the “Church Team” struggle to support their respective families and churches while toiling away as schoolteachers, construction workers, etc. The Church Team collectively rationalizes that playing blackjack is not a sin (in their situations) because they are taking money from exploitative institutions in order to spend more quality time with their families and churches. Additionally, they have developed a financial structure in which the players earn an hourly wage, not a percentage of their winnings. So the players are “working” towards the greater financial well-being of their “business venture,” not for personal gain. They see absolutely nothing un-Christian about their actions and are very quick to dispute any claims that it runs counter to their faith.
The Church Team harbors an almost unhealthy amount of animosity towards the casinos — especially Las Vegas — and it is not because they get kicked out of these institutions quite frequently. Their general consensus seems to be that casinos cheat and trick innocent people (essentially stealing their money) and Las Vegas is a cesspool of sin; yet, these are the very same locations where the Church Team has chosen to do their “business.” It is also important to note that even though card counting is not technically illegal, casinos do not like to lose too much money to anyone; so casinos are very quick to kick out, detain or ban anyone whom they suspect of card counting.
Bryan Storkel’s Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians follows the Church Team during the course of its existence. (I guess I should have warned you of spoilers!) Initially, they succeed beyond their wildest dreams, closing bankroll ($100,000 in winnings) after bankroll. Their success breeds rapid growth in the size of the team. Soon the Church Team has expanded well beyond a close circle of church friends — there is even a non-believer in the group. (Gasp!) When their luck turns sour, trust quickly becomes an issue and the non-believer is accused of cheating (let’s just say that he is ratted out by “the Holy Spirit”). If I did not know any better, I would think some of these dramatic situations were scripted and purely fictional…
Your perception of Holy Rollers will be directly correlated to your personal religious ideologies. I find Storkel’s documentary to be extremely entertaining, but some of the principal subjects come off as gratingly vain and egotistical. That said — as a non-Christian, I find it completely unreasonable to attempt to “judge” the subjects of Holy Rollers according my interpretation of Christianity. In my personal opinion, spirituality is a very personal thing — and the members of the Church Team have created their own interpretations of what Christianity means to them. If they find specific verses in The Bible that they can interpret as supporting and justifying their actions, more power to them.
What really irritates me, however, is the way they wear Christianity as a protective badge — and as if by being Christians their actions are indisputably pure and righteous. I realize that it is an intriguing paradox that the subjects of this film are Christians who count cards (an action which some might interpret as cheating) while playing blackjack (an action which some might interpret as gambling), but I was damn near ready to throw my remote through the television screen after hearing the words “I am a Christian” repeated ad nauseum for 90 minutes. (In most cases, that is all they say about their faith.) I realize they are proud of being Christians, but I could care less about which spiritual doctrine they adhere to. (And why repeat it so often?) So, yes, I am interpreting Holy Rollers by way of my opinions on religion, specifically Christianity.
After a very successful festival run, Holy Rollers will be released on Blu-Ray, DVD and VOD on March 6, 2012.