Tag Archives: gambling

Straight Pocket Bet


Informant: “My grandfather loved the Reds, the Cincinnati Reds, but he didn’t hear well, so he had this radio that he would put up on a ledge at his house, it was just about your height. So he would go stand by that, with his good… with his better ear up against the radio and listen to a ball game from start to finish. And we would see them every Sunday, this was part of our routine, and he would always want to make a bet… I think I did this with you guys too… so we would negotiate a bet about the Reds or something and we would finally shake hands and he would say straight pocket bet. ‘Well, what’s that mean grandpa?’ I would say. And he always responded: ‘no matter what happens we each keep our money in our pocket.’”


The informant learned the expression “straight pocket bet” from his grandfather and their tradition of listening to Cincinnati Reds games together. To the two it was a way of instilling friendly competition without the actual need for financial stakes, and it allowed them to bond over sports, which has always been an interest for the family.


This expression and the conversation leading up to it were recorded during a scheduled meeting at my home in San Diego, CA.


My initial reaction to this was that it provided an easy platform over which to debate sports topics, or anything that might be negotiated with a bet for that matter. However, another interesting potential use of this could be to deceive someone who has no knowledge of this expression into making such a bet, and only letting them know what it means in the case of a loss (although this might be potentially dangerous if used in the wrong situation).

The Melbourne Cup

“The Melbourne Cup is the first Tuesday of November. It’s a public holiday. That shows how important it is to Australians. It’s a horse race. I don’t know how it became big or why it became big, but like it’s genuinely observed across Australia. It’s like a series of races that take place all week. They’re just horse races of different heats, of different… Just horse races! Horses from all over the world come to Australia to race in Melbourne Cup. The reason why it’s so big is that… So it’s a series of races, and the biggest race is the Melbourne Cup, and it’s quite long, and only the best horses compete in it. The reason why it’s so big is because people… It’s like a festival, I guess. It’s fashion and food, and it’s more about like the people, I guess? It’s like the Oscars or Grammys where, like, you’re like, ‘What’s she wearing?’ It’s kind of like that. When it comes time to the actual Melbourne Cup race itself, people put bets on which horse is gonna win. And that’s part of the tradition. Even if you aren’t normally a betting person most people in Australia will go put a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, probably not extreme amounts, but people will go and put money on a horse. The newspaper has a centerfold with like all the horses and their statistics and the jockey and their experiences and where the horses have won before. I pick #12 because that’s my lucky number, I just trust that number. And then you go to the tab and you put a bet on. You can do it from anywhere in the country, not just in Victoria where the cup is. The Melbourne Cup is the one day a year where the tab is full, it’s like bursting. It’s usually just a couple men, like the serial gamblers. It’s hectic on that day. I get excited. It’s the one day a year where I actually get excited about a horse race. I think you can tell that everyone else cares, too. It’s all people talk about in like the days leading up. Three o’clock on the dot is when the race starts. When I was in high school, school finished at ten minutes to three. And there was no way I was gonna get home in time or anyone was gonna get home in time for the race. So school ends classes like half an hour early on Melbourne Cup day so we can all get home in order to watch the race. My brother and I would get off the bus, and we’d race home, and we’d drop our bags and everybody would be in front of the TV. I don’t even know why it was a family affair, but it was. I can’t explain the excitement when the race started. It was kind of like everything stopped. And the tag line for the Melbourne Cup is like, ‘The race that stops the nation.’ And it genuinely is. Like, traffic stops. People park their cars and like listen to it on the radio. Everybody stops for like two or three minutes just to listen to this race. Unless you win, though, you don’t get anything out of it. You don’t get any like satisfaction or money, just nothing. It can be kind of anticlimactic. When it’s over, people kind of just go back to their lives. Some people will like watch the after ceremony where they like crown the jockey and like give him money and stuff. They interview the owner of the horse, and they put a little sash on the horse to say that he won. It’s just the one day where everyone in Australia kind of stops. It’s kind of become an Australian tradition just to watch.”


I could tell this was a very exciting experience for the source to relate. It’s certainly outside of her usual interest, but like the rest of Australia, it seems not to matter whether horse racing is in your interests or not. Because it’s not a horse racing thing. It’s an Australian thing. It’s part of their identity. It’s very much like our Super Bowl. Everybody watches the Super Bowl, everybody knows who’s in the Super Bowl. The whole nation stops on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s what the Melbourne Cup is for Australians. However, it seems they have a lot more invested in it what with all the betting and whatnot. Americans, however, experience it longer. Whereas no one researches before the Melbourne Cup, it seems, and not too many people continue watching after it’s done, the Super Bowl is savored for every minute of it, including the aftermath. And everybody is prepping from the week before.

Off-color Gambling Joke

A bank teller is greeted one day by a woman who wants to make a large deposit – approximately $3 million.  The woman’s demeanor and clothing do not suggest a person of great wealth, but for such a large amount of money, the teller thinks that the woman should be treated especially well, and that he should take extra steps to make her feel secure in making the transaction.  Thus he goes to get the manager.
When the manager returns, he greets the woman and she hands him the checks.  When he reads them, he is wide-eyed and asks, “Just out of curiosity, do you mind if I ask what business you run?  It seems you are very successful with it…”
She replies, “Oh, I made the money off of bets.”
“I made the money betting.”
“You mean betting, as in gambling, like at the casino?”
“No, I just make big bets with people.”
“Your friends?”
“Anybody.  For instance, I’ll bet you $100,000 that one of your testicles is blue.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
“No, I’m serious.”
The bank manager is wary, as obviously the woman has been successful with her betting, but on the other hand, he is absolutely certain that neither of his testicles is blue.  Just to double check, he unzips and takes a quick peek while standing behind the counter so no one sees it.  Sure enough, both sides are totally normal.  So he accepts the bet.  “Sure, I’ll take you up on your bet.”
“Alright, but we’ll need to wait until tomorrow to verify who wins the bet.  I want to bring in my lawyer to make sure there are no legal issues and that the loser pays the winner fairly.  I’ll bet you that after 2 o’clock tomorrow, one of your testicles will have turned blue.”
Confused and still somewhat shocked by the proposal, the manager thinks briefly about it and they agree to the bet.  He cannot imagine her being able to do anything to cause one of his testicles to turn blue.
When the manager awakes the next morning, he does another check.  Still normal.  At work, he nervously anticipates the arrival of the woman and her lawyer at 2 o’clock.  Every now and then, he takes another peek at himself to make sure both testicles are still normal.
At 2 o’clock, as planned, the woman and her lawyer arrive.  The manager quickly checks one more time, and taking them aside, he excitedly tells the woman that he has won the bet.
“Do you mind if I check to make sure?” asks the woman.
Nervously, the manager gives her permission, eager to receive his $100,000 reward.
As the manager unzips for her and she inspects, the lawyer suddenly begins to shout loudly in anguish and bang his head against the wall.
“Is he alright?” the manager asks.  “What’s the matter?”
“He’s fine,” she replies, “I bet him $1 million the other day that I could get the manager of this bank to drop his pants for me while he stood there watching.”


his was an Internet joke that my informant received from a friend of his.  My paraphrase is actually slightly less graphic than the original version of the joke.  It is a complex joke which could strike different hearers as having different thematic implications.  When I heard the joke, I picked up the idea of female outsmarting male and that of the lawyer being humiliated.
The joke also features multiple oxymorons, or “appropriate incongruities, ” which according to folklorist Elliot Oring, are the backbone of a joke’s humor.  The rich woman’s strange ability to make millions from betting is the first apparent incongruity.  This is followed by her assertion that one of the bank manager’s anatomical members is blue, an obvious falsehood.  Finally, the lawyer’s emotional eruption seems strange and unexplainable.  All of these incongruities are readily corrected and made appropriate, however, by the punchline, delivering a triple dose of somewhat off-color humor.

Greek New Years Customs

The informant is a male in his 50s. He was born to two Greek parents in New York. He was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in the Bronx for most of his youth before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut. He has worked as a journalist for most of his life, a job in which he spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent. He now lives in Southern California as a software developer. He is divorced with three children.

Following are two New Years customs from the Greek community the informant lived in as a child.

Custom #1:

When growing up, there was a tradition in the informant’s family and the Greek community at large that the adults would always gamble on New Years eve. All the families would gather, as New Years is a family occasion, and the adults would bet on cards while the kids played. The believe was the gambling for money would bring luck for the coming year; it was an auspicious practice to handle money at the very threshold of the New Year.

Analysis: The handling of money at the beginning of the year probably owed some of its origin to ideas of sympathetic magic. The act of handling and interacting with a lot of money as the New Year begins is an enactment of the what the people wish to happen for the rest of the year; they hope that for the upcoming year they will have a lot of contact with money, and thus be prosperous. Gambling at New Years is a type of ritual, although most of the people participating probably think of it as a good luck ceremony. That the ritual magic implications of the gambling are more important than the more straightforward attempts to win money are supported by the fact that it is a whole family affair, including children.

Custom #2:

It was tradition in the informant’s family and the Greek community at large to throw a piece of iron into the house on New Years. Iron horseshoes are usually used, as they are the most common piece of iron around the house. The informant does not remember exactly why this was done, but he remembers learning that it should be done through the stories the old Greek women would tell him. They would explain their cultures traditions to the children, telling them stories and legends. They were the main transmitters of tradition in that social network.

Analysis: In the Greek community that the informant grew up in, the stories were transmitted by the female elders. The informant says that it is through the stories of these women that the young in the community learn who they are. These women are the active bearers in the community. It is their place in the social construction of the Greek society, rather than personality or personal preference, that determines who are active bearers of lore and who are passive. The childrens’ roles are as passive bearers. But this position switches with age, although not sex. The position of those who tell stories is regulated in the Greek community.

Folk Belief – American

In order to gather lottery numbers to play the Ohio Lottery Jeff spends the entire day keeping an eye out for any numbers that seem to stick out to him. The method he uses to determine which numbers are worth recording is very difficult to explain. Jeff says that he gets a certain feeling in his gut that lets him know that the number is significant and should be recorded. One caveat to his method is that he must spend all day gathering the numbers. If he were to record all of his numbers at one time he says that they would not work. “Only lazy people do that.” Anybody can spot a bunch of numbers and write them down, but he believes that a true professional will take his time and”let the numbers come to him.”

The numbers are gathered from a variety of sources including, but not limited to: license plates, sports scores, fortune cookies, dates, number of letter in a name, ages, number of items or objects in a certain place. When I asked Jeff if he had ever actually won using his method he informed me that he has never won but he has been “so close he could taste it.” This method of picking out numbers was taught to Jeff by his mother. I asked him if she had ever won using the method and he said, “If she did he definitely didn’t share.”

I asked him if he actually believed in the potency of his method and he said that he was not sure but that it felt more effective than just guessing. I think that the method Jeff uses is fairly common. I have worked with people who use similar methods for picking lottery numbers. I once informed a friend that I received a fortune cookie that contained two fortunes and she told me to play the numbers on it because it was a sign of good luck to have two fortunes in one cookie. I played the numbers in the California lottery and did not match a single number.

Many people seem to utilize different methods of picking numbers, but whatever the method they always stick to it. The thought is that eventually they will win. Jeff told me that if he uses his method long enough it will eventually pay off. The money he plans to win will cover the cost of all the tickets he has bought in the past and there will be plenty left over to spend on other things, such as more tickets. I agree with what Jeff said about his method being more useful than simple guessing. The psychological benefit of believing that one has properly “read” the signs and discovered the correct numbers makes one feel more positive than just plain old guessing. It adds a sort of supernatural element to choosing lottery numbers.

Folk Game – American

The game Flips is played with any kind of coin. Typically it is played with quarters. The matches usually take place during lunchtime and matches are quick so that the winner can go buy snacks with his winnings and still have time to eat them. To play the game you and your opponent must have identical coins. If you have a quarter your opponent must also have a quarter, for example. One person flips their coin. The other person has to flip their coin and get it to land on the same side as the coin that their opponent previously flipped. If I flip a quarter and it comes up heads then you have to flip your quarter and have it come up heads to win. If the opponent matches the side the coin lands on then he gets both quarters. If they do not match the person that flipped first gets both quarters. If you match it you win. If you don’t match it you lose.

Ira says that this game was first introduced to him during his freshman year of high school. It was very easy for him to learn and he played it almost every day. It was a good way for him to make snack money. He told me that his strategy was to play with quarters first and if he started losing he would switch to smaller currency, such as nickels or dimes, until he became profitable again, at which point he would switch back to quarters.

Part of the appeal of this game came from the fact that it was not expensive to play and when you lose it is only pocket change that you are losing. This game was convenient for high school kids since most of them did not make much money at the time. They were able to accumulate change from simply looking around there houses or saving up change from small purchases. Ira told me that he thought the game was a great way to kill time during the lunch break. It was a fun way to spend time with friends and meet new people at very little expense.

I think the game is a good way to create and strengthen friendships but as a consequence it seems that it could eventually lead to a gambling habit. Ira told me he played every day. It might not have affected him, but I think gambling daily can contribute significantly to a future gambling habit.