THEY'RE SO CLEAN CUT—a crew of young Seattleites sitting around a family-style dinner, laughing and drinking. Then you realize all these kids must be Christians, because they're all so earnest and they have a surprising number of children for being so young. The pre-meal prayer clinches the hunch. It's a little jolting to discover the reason they're so jazzed: They can't wait to play blackjack and count cards and take casinos for all they're worth. It doesn't seem very Christian of them.
It's this two-things-that-don't-go-together duality that makes the documentary Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians an engaging story about a team of blackjack-cheating Bible thumpers. It follows Colin and Ben, the two leaders of a team of young parsons, youth group leaders, and churchgoers who count cards and play with large sums of money provided by group members and investors to win big at casinos around the nation. Throughout the interviews it becomes apparent that all the goody-goody li'l Christians get a little thrill out of gambling at the casinos—a sort of "I know how to walk on the wild side" jolly—and they all play for different reasons, but the throughline is to give the money to their churches and families.
Over the course of three years, the self-dubbed Church Team makes a shit-ton of money, only to have their luck turn after being kicked out of innumerable casinos. They begin a considerable losing streak, and because they're all members of the same flock, the team doesn't have a system in place to ensure card players aren't stealing from the kitty. It's ultimately an unhappy end to a friendly game of cards. But it's the Church Team's rationalizations and moral justifications that make Holy Rollers an interesting film that goes beyond the meager titillation of watching Christians gamble and drink the occasional beer.