“We Didn’t Need the House Anyway”: An Examination of American Gambling

“Money money money money, moneeeeey”

~The O’Jays


What makes gambling so American?  Many have delved into the subject, but really, despite the many many volumes of books entitled, “Gamblin’ Amrrican”, “Goin’ Broke, a Story of the American Dream” or “I like Gambling”, the answer is surprisingly simple.  Americans like gambling because nothing is more American than poorly placed blind faith, which leads every American to at some point ask themselves, “I know I won’t win…but what if I did?”

Why do we gamble?  When that was asked to the America Fun Fact of the Day staff, Michael Jordan shouted out, “Because it’s fun.”  And while that is true, we responded, “Nice minor league batting average, asshole,” because it’s pretty important to keep MJ’s ego in check.  But, nevertheless, fun is not the only reason why we gamble.  Gambling is reckless, stupid, and potentially dangerous.  In a word, it is America.

Gambling is such a strong force in our society that billion dollar industries can spring up around the very notion of fake gambling.  Virgins play with Magic: The Gathering cards, the cool kids circa 1997 were slamming Pogs harder than Ike Turner, and slap bets actually count as currency in certain nations of Sub-Continental Asia.

The first instance of gambling in America occurred in 1585, when Sir Richard Grenville, the admiral of the fleet that brought the of the first group of settlers of the Roanoke colony to the New world, declared a particular area to be safe for colonization.  One of the settlers asked him, “Wanna bet?”  The first wager in America was then set- if everyone in the Roanoke colony got slaughtered by the indigenous population, or were all swept away by a natural disaster, Grenville owed them all a beer.  When the Roanoke colony disappeared several years later, Grenville stayed true to his pledge, and in 1591 he purchased one beer for every lost colony member.  He drank them all in one night, and in a blackout drunken stupor, grabbed control of his ship, the HMS Revenge (which is a glorious name for a galleon), and suicide attacked 52 Spanish ships, heavily damaging 15 of them, before dying of his wounds several days later.  After his death, a cyclone appeared to destroy his ship and 16 other Spanish ships.  Really.  As a result, the first ever American bet was able to get an upper class British man wasted, while also killing a large amount of foreigners from a country that naps and doesn’t speak the same language as we do.  The American roots of gambling could not be shaken from that day forward.

America employs many forms of gambling, which are all meant to rip you off.  However, if you never received money back from gambling, it technically is called “stealing” or “a con game,” both of which are still American, just not quite as American (or legal) as gambling.  Gambling requires a delicate balance between letting someone win just enough that everyone else thinks they have a chance to win, while still making piñatas full of cash.  Princeton University in 1960 performed a psychological study regarding this phenomenon, where small children were told to look for lollipops on the floor.  All of these lollipops were made out of shards of glass, and many children cut their mouths horribly trying to find lollipops.  After a while, they stoped looking.  But when one child successfully found a real lollipop, shouting, “I got a lolly!” the other children would continue looking, even if it meant continually inflicting themselves with massive amounts of pain.  Needless to say, psychological experiments in the 1960s were brutal, fucked up, and really awesome in that messed up David Lynch kind of way.

Below is a list of the current most popular forms of gambling, and how they violate you (sexually) with hope.

–          Poker


  • Poker is one of the few popular method of gambling where luck combines with skill, so while a good player can win fairly consistently between loss streaks, someone who has never played before can stay in a hand for $100 bucks, put down five cards and say “I have all red, is that good?” and hear everyone at the table mumble and curse when he reveals his straight flush.  Poker regularly appears on Cable Sports Networks, and poker tournaments appear on TV more often than soccer, meaning that poker is more of a sport than soccer.  Every one of your friends who plays poker has a story about that one time they had a killer hand, and then they got busted out on the river by a player making a stupid call, and those stories are always boring.  The poker table is also one of the few places where it is considered (only a little) acceptable to wear sunglasses inside, at night.  In the wild west, people were shot over poker games, which means that it is kind of actually badass.

§  Fun fact:  This one time, I was riding pocket aces, and the flop comes down, Ace King Seven, so this guy goes all in on pocket sevens, and I call him, and I’ve got him beat until….see?  See?  Isn’t that fucking boring?  That’s soooo boring.  Poker is really fun to play, but goddamn it, we don’t care about your pocket aces from two years ago.  Goddamn it.

–          The Lottery


  • The lottery is run by the government on a state level, though private lotteries used to be legal, and probably hilarious to an outside observer.  In the lottery, millions of gullible people spend money to get a random bunch of numbers that they hope will pay off, at odds of about 1-to-it’snotgoingtohappen,man.  The lottery is often called a “poor person tax” because everyone sees hundreds of homeless and unemployed individuals purchase lottery tickets, yet the winner of the largest jackpots are always young, clean, middle-class white people who claim they’ve “never bought a ticket before” in their life.  Ironically, much of the money made by the lottery goes to fund public schools, which seems to be a wasted investment since so many Americans grow up thinking that if they buy $1,000 of lottery tickets they’re guaranteed to win it big.

§  Fun fact:  Someone, somewhere, has saved up over a thousand dollars for the sole purpose of using it to buy a thousand lottery tickets, which is probably the most depressing thing you will hear all day.

–          Mahjong


  • We’ll be honest with you here, this game is not American, and we don’t think any Americans know or care how it is played.  It’s from China or something, so we’re  just going to pretend that it’s that Russian Roulette scene with Christopher Walken going all ape-shit in The Deer Hunter.  So, Mahjong is a manly game that takes place only in the seedy underbelly of America, which is far seedier and more rotund than the seedy underbelly of other nations.  Usually, you take a few American POW’s, and you give them a revolver with 6 chambers, and one bullet, as a bunch of Vietnamese people stand around shouting, “DIDI MAU” and there’s a lot of screaming and tension, which is really cool.

§  Fun fact:  We haven’t even seen that whole movie, but seriously, how cool was that scene?

–          Blackjack


  • Blackjack is a game that can be complete, blind luck, where you just buy a little card that tells you when to hit, double down, split your cards, or stay, or a game where you can count cards and use math, which is completely legal but will still get lead to you being put in a dark room to get roughed up by security guards if you try it at a casino.  Having someone be a savant at blackjack is a really easy plot fix to put into the end of a film if characters need to get money fast.

§  Fun fact: If you play in Vegas, the drinks are free while you play blackjack, and for some reason they try to get you really smashed while playing it.  Go figure.

–          Three Card Monte


  • Okay, so this one is for chumps.  To successfully run a Three Card Monte game, you have to have a table that can be moved quickly and easily.  This serves two purposes.  First, if the cops show up, it’s a quick getaway.  Secondly, if someone manages to crack your system and get the right card, you go “no, double or nothing, man” (possibly in a Jamaican accent, but that’s your call) and if they win again you say, “No man, you cheated man,” and take the money and run.  To play the game, first you have to establish a system that, no matter how good the person is at following your card, they will not find the right card of the three.  This usually involves sleight of hand.  At that point, you need a partner- preferably a relative who looks ridiculously similar to you.  This partner will come in, pretending not to know you, and quickly win two games, say, “Oh wow, I did it!” in a really over-the-top fake way, and then the more naïve people in the crowd of onlookers will play.  Usually you can take all the money of about two or three people before people start getting angry, and you have to leave (another reason why the easily moved table is a necessity.  Cardboard is a good option).

§  Fun fact:  If you know someone who has lost their money to a three card monte game, you are allowed to laugh at them forever.

–          Sports Betting


  • As red blooded Americans, sports betting is the form of gambling that allows us to feel like we have the most control over the outcome.  You follow the teams of each sport, know who is players, who matches up well against who, and feel confident that you can beat the Vegas line.  Except for the fact that games are often influenced by intangibles that are unexpected, and you can just as easily lose all of your bets as you can win them.  Sports betting is the reason why diehard Chicago sports fans who stupidly bet on the Bears to cover the spread each week had lousy financial years in 2007, 2008, and 2009, and lost a lot of money on the Packers/Bears playoff game.

§  Fun Fact:  Everyone who gambles on football legitimately hates having to pick the winner of Houston Texans games.

Of course, there are many other types of gambling in America, both legal and illegal varieties.  But, ten bucks says you can’t name 20 more of them.

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One response to ““We Didn’t Need the House Anyway”: An Examination of American Gambling

  1. Pingback: How Americans Can Con a John | affotd

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