It’s possible that The Simpsons has referenced gambling and the casino more than any other animated show, which would make sense, as it’s the longest running series of its kind. From the very first episode, where Homer rescues Santa’s Little Helper from the greyhound track to Homer and Ned being tricked into getting married in Las Vegas, there have been a number of classic moments relating to the casino, but the episode that perfectly encapsulates everything good, bad, or indifferent about gambling is Season 5 Episode 10. The aptly named “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Legalise Gambling” is intended to be a satirical look at Las Vegas, focusing on the panic which sweeps Springfield when plans for a casino to be built within the town are approved.
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When Monty Burns opens his own casino, Homer in all his wisdom decides to take a job as a blackjack dealer while Bart opens his own rival casino in the comfort of his own treehouse. Of course, Homer brings his own inimitable style to the blackjack table, and the local players immediately take a shine to him due to the fact that he’s quite obviously letting them win every hand. Mr Burns, on the other hand, goes five days without sleep after the casino opens before succumbing to OCD and waging a war on germs (as you do), Marge is enslaved by Gamblor and becomes hooked to the slot machines, whilst Bart makes a mint in his own casino until all the other kids realise that it’s just a ruse. The episode covers all bases with regards to the casino and gambling but does so in a way that makes you think as well as laugh. In our book, that’s television done right.
Whilst South Park and The Simpsons are both animated shows, that’s pretty much where the similarities end, and so as you’d expect, they’ve approached the topic of gambling a little differently. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are well known for pushing the boundaries when it comes to anything and everything which is relevant, and so it will come as no shock that South Park has tackled some of the darker themes surrounding the casino in the episode titled Red Man’s Greed. After a trip to an Indian casino could have gone a little better, the whole town of South Park is bought out by Native Americans with the intention of flattening it in order to build a highway which would link their casino to the rest of Denver.
Of course, the residents won’t take a threat like that lying down, and a huge game of roulette ensues with the idea of winning the $300,000, which is needed to save the town. After grinding at the table and winning the required amount, the adults decide to gamble what they’ve won on number 31 in order to get super rich. Red number 2 promptly comes out and they lose everything – or, as most ardent South Park fans would say, “…aaaaand it’s gone!” Oh, and the adults all end up contracting SARS from some infected blankets, in a nod to historical events. Standard South Park stuff, really.
Friends remains as popular today as it ever has been, despite the fact that it’s been off our screens for well over a decade. Whilst the show was always fairly family friendly, it didn’t stop some of our favourite characters indulging in a little bit of gambling now and again, and as you can imagine, the results were often pretty hilarious. The episode which undoubtedly springs to mind is season one episode 18 (“The One With All the Poker”), in which the girls play poker against the boys for bragging rights as well as a decent amount of money.
Nevertheless, this was merely the start of the Friends dynasty, and whilst entertaining, we think that season six episode six takes home the title of the funniest gambling related scene in Friends history. Now, we all know that Joey Tribiani wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the box, and this is one of the reasons why Matt Le Blanc’s character won us over. It was this naivety which gave us the hilarious scene in “The One On the Last Night” where Chandler has to invent a game called “cups” in order to help Joey out and give him back the money he won in a game of table football. To be fair to Joey, the game doesn’t make much sense, but it still has us in tears even to this day.
Many people on both sides of the Atlantic were slightly trepidatious when it was announced that there was to be a remake of the hit British sitcom. Oh, how wrong we were. The US version of The Office has featured gambling a number of times throughout the series, which often operates as a side story to the main narrative of the episodes. Most will remember Steve Carrell’s iconic performance as the awkward but loveable Michael Scott in the season 2 finale, in which he organises a charity casino bash in a pretty shoddy-looking warehouse.
However, we think that season three episode 20 trumps every other casino-related scene in The Office, as it perfectly encapsulates the mood around most offices throughout the country. In order to entertain themselves, the workers bet on numerous trivial but side-splittingly hilarious things, including whether Creed will realise that the apple he was previously eating had been replaced by a potato. Despite the fact that the scenes are fairly brief, they perfectly highlight the often banal existence of an office worker and also demonstrates that to some people, there really are no limits as to what they’ll wager on.
The very nature of this show means that its appearance on this list was inevitable. Up to now, the shows on the list have tackled the difficult subject of gambling whilst putting their own humorous spin on the situations which arise. Boardwalk Empire is many things, but a comedy is not one of them, and the casino scenes featured throughout the show are very gritty and very real. Nevertheless, the accurate and realistic portrayal of such topics is one of the reasons why the show was such a global smash.
There are a few scenes which immediately spring to mind when it comes to Boardwalk Empire and the casino, but the one that feels the most real takes place when Arnold Rothstein (played by the brilliant Michael Stuhlbarg) takes Nucky Thomspon’s (Steve Buscemi) casino to the cleaners but isn’t ready to call it a day. Thompson swiftly tells Rothstein in no uncertain terms that the establishment can’t handle the amount of the money that he’s throwing in the table, before Rothstein assures him that, “Your credit’s good with me.” Whilst this may seem bold and somewhat brazen, Rothstein was a well-known racketeer and was a guy you certainly didn’t want to mess with. In this scene, you can cut the tension with a knife – and we love it.
The Sopranos was a show which centred around Italian-American mobsters, and so as you can imagine, it heavily features the underground gambling industry, which was a prominent feature of the times. Of course, nowadays, everything is done above board and what’s more, most punters are now choosing to play online because you can treat yourself to an excellent first deposit bonus on most online sites when playing the game of your choice. Nevertheless, our favourite scene from the show takes place in season two episode 6 and revolves around a high stakes game of poker between some of the main characters and their associates, which focusses on raw human frustration more than anything else.
Silvio Dante finds himself doing fairly badly in terms of his chip count and loses his temper during the game, but instead of turning the table upside down or hurling a bunch of chips across the room as you’d expect, he simply launches into a foul mouthed but hilarious tirade. Whilst we would probably have to use up our annual asterisk quota in order to tell you exactly what he says to the rest of the players, we can guarantee that you won’t be able to resist cracking a smile. Enjoy it whilst you can though, because it’s not long before things turn ugly again – such is the beauty of the show.
Fans of this hit US show will already be well aware that the friends on the show regularly use poker as a way to socialise with each other, and there have been many iconic moments throughout Desperate Housewives which have centred around a kitchen or dining room table. Perhaps the most memorable gambling scene featured within the show comes in the final episode of season 8, where a game of poker takes place as a farewell to the departing Susan.
The rest of the women agree that although Susan is leaving and their group is breaking up, they will continue to play poker and that this wouldn’t be their last game together. Unfortunately, the voiceover then reveals that this indeed is the girls’ final game together and really hits home the uncertainty of friendships and life in general in the future.
How I Met Your Mother
After 208 episodes spanning from 2005 to 2014, How I Met Your Mother managed to become the quintessential American sitcom comedy. Season two episode 8 (“Atlantic City”) saw the group of friends plan a mini trip to Atlantic City, where Marshall and Lily were due to be married. Of course, these things never really work out how they’re supposed to, and the gang end up losing most of their cash. The real kicker here is that Barney is the friend who ends up winning their money back, as his past struggles with games of chance are well documented.
What makes the scene even more bizarre (and hilarious) is that the money is won back in a fictional game known as Xing Hai Shi Bu Xing. If you remember watching the scene and not having a clue what’s going on then don’t worry – by the looks on the other characters’ faces, they have absolutely no idea either. This could well be a subtle nod by the writers to those who visit the casino for the first time and often just stare in both fear and amazement whilst looking like the proverbial deer in a headlight. Conversely, it could just be a funny idea which came to one of the writers in a dream. Who knows? It’s fantastic either way.
Watch This Space…
The emergence of online casino has seen a recent surge in the popularity of gambling across the board. With that being said, it seems that whilst we’re still fascinated the river card in five card poker and mesmerised by the spinning roulette wheel, we’ll continue to see the casino featured heavily in many future TV shows. One thing’s for sure, with the number of high quality scenes on the list above, you certainly won’t see us complaining about that.
With technology constantly evolving, who knows what TV shows of the future will bring? Perhaps we’ll be able to have the shows beamed into our heads ala Star Trek or maybe we’ll be enjoying our favourite programmes in virtual reality? The only thing that we can be certain of is that gambling is as big a part of our lives as it’s ever been and is here to stay for the foreseeable future.