Gambling in TV shows is always entertaining. Whether it is how badly the writers have written a poker game, or how obvious it is that the lead character’s horse is going to lose because he bet his life savings on it, the episodes are highly emotive. But when the writers get it right, it can be a real home run because gambling is exciting, it is fun and when done correctly it can make for the perfect episode with highs, lows and everything in between.
But what are the best TV shows to feature gambling in an episode? Well, we have created a list of what we believe are the top ten episodes with gambling as one of the main points of the episode. For the sake of the list, we will focus on TV shows that are not always based around gambling or the world of gambling. So Las Vegas will not feature on the list, neither will High Stakes Poker and shows along those lines.
It was difficult to actually to come up with a list, because a lot of the time writers dumb gambling down to fit the scene, and to make it more accessible to the masses, but the list we do have, while perhaps not a definitive list, is a list that will get you thinking about your favorite TV shows that have features gambling.
#10: Black Books – A Little Flutter
Bernard Black becomes addicted to horse racing after watching the Grand National and getting a small win, and the episode culminates in a fantastic high-stakes poker game.
#9: Friends – The One On The Last Night
This episode features the card game Cups – a fictional game invented by Chandler so he can give Joey money without making Joey feel like it is charity. If you are looking for the rules of Cups, this episode does nothing to clear it up, but it is a hilarious episode of Friends.
#8: The Simpsons – Bonfire of the Manatees
The one and only appearance of the fictional Professor Pigskin, which is a betting system used to allegedly pick winners of football matches. After losing a considerable amount of money to the Mafia thanks to the system’s tip of the Oakland Raiders, Homer repays the debt by allowing the Springfield Mafia to film an adult film in his home, much to Marge’s annoyance.
#7: Still Game – Cairds
This episode of Still Game is based around both the local bookies and the various home card games played by the residents of Craiglang. The housing scheme’s resident loser, Winston, has a large accumulator running at the bookies, while the boys’ poker game has to move from the pub to Jack’s house, both with the expected hilarious results.
#6: The Office (US) – Safety Training
This episode, in the third season of The Office focused on Michael’s antics to prove that working in an office is just as dangerous as working in a warehouse. However, the side plot of the office workers betting on different things is fantastic. If you have ever worked in an office environment, betting on the number of jelly beans in a dish is standard behavior. The bets revolving around Kelly (talking about Netflix, saying “Awesome”) are just fantastic and epitomize office life to a tee.
#5: Derren Brown – The System
Although this is technically a one-off about gambling, it is something Derren Brown had never really covered in his television specials before. The idea of the episode is simple – Derren Brown has a no-lose betting system, which he has given to one member of the public: Khadisha. The program focuses on Khadisha as she has a run of five winners in five horse races, and as the sixth race approaches, she is convinced by Derren to has a substantially larger bet on the sixth horse because his system guarantees it. Unfortunately for Khadisha, her horse loses. But Derren, who put the bet on for her, had ‘changed’ the selection at the window and backed the winner of the race.
Why this episode is so good: Derren Brown helps bust open one of the oldest gambling systems there is – the pyramid scheme. 5 horse race? Send out a different horse to 20% of the subscription base, continue until they decide to invest heavily in ‘tips’. The System flags up this scam that many unscrupulous ‘tipsters’ use to make a quick buck from gullible or desperate people. It is definitely worth a watch to ensure you never get stung by fraudsters.
#4: How I Met Your Mother – Slap Bet
How I Met Your Mother was one of the most popular shows of the new millennium, and episodes such as Slap Bet are the reason for that. Slap Bet sets up a running joke that will continue until the end of the series, and there was viral marketing based solely around the aftermath of the original Slap Bet.
Slap Bet starts around the premise that one of the lead characters, Robin, does not want to go to the mall. She does not give her reasons, leading to speculation by the rest of the cast as to why. A bet is then proposed between Marshall and Barney as to whose reason is right – a slap bet. The loser is to be slapped by the winner as hard as possible. The episode revolves around the slap bet and the secret that Robin is keeping, until one of the most memorable pay-offs in television history. If you have yet to watch this, no spoilers, but it is one episode of How I Met Your Mother that you MUST watch.
Why this episode is so good: it sets the foundation for another 5 seasons with several running jokes, particularly the slap bet. However, the pay-off to Robin’s dislike of malls is also another recurring theme throughout the rest of How I Met Your Mother’s run. It is one of the highest points in a series filled with many high points, and an example of how to write fantastic television.
#3: The Twilight Zone – The Fever
Husband and wife to take a trip to Vegas, man wins on slot machine and then becomes addicted to slot machines, before becoming ‘haunted’ by one. Sounds like a nightmare trip to Las Vegas, right? Well, if Franklin’s trip is anything to go by, you should steer clear of the slot machines.
Franklin starts out dead-set against gambling, but is confronted by a drunk who gives him a dollar and urges him to put it in a slot machine. As you would expect, Franklin wins, and declared that he will not gamble again so as not to lose it back like everyone else in Las Vegas. However, Franklin becomes convinced that the slot machine he won on is haunting him, calling his name. He dreams of fabulous riches, which leads him back to the slot machine. Franklin becomes addicted to the slot machine and loses a small fortune over the course of several hours. Without spoiling it too much, Franklin’s life goes into a downward spiral incredibly quickly, as the slot machine continues its pursuit of him.
Why this episode is so good: it is classic Twilight Zone. Yes, it is a bit preachy about the dangers of gambling, but it was very well written by Rod Serling, who conceived the concept of The Twilight Zone, having a hand in many of the show’s iconic episodes. The message behind the episode is an important one, regardless of how blunt and obvious it might be, and while not one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes, it is one episode anyone that is interested in gambling should watch.
#2: Friends – The One In Vegas Part 2
Part 1 of this two-parter of Friends sets us up nicely for Part 2, which is the stand-out episode in terms of humor and also emotion. After Joey becomes stranded and penniless in Las Vegas after his shoot did not work out, the entire Friends gang end up in Las Vegas in one way or another with the usual hi-jinx. Part 2 starts with Monica playing craps after fighting with Monica, going on a hot streak to end all hot streaks. This culminates in a proposal between Monica and Chandler that if they win the next roll of the dice, they will go and get married. After some shenanigans with the dice, Monica and Chandler head to the chapel to get married and encountered a bit of a shock.
Why this episode is so good: like all well written episodes of TV shows, The One In Vegas Part 2 sets us up for the rest of the run of Friends. So many storylines get a shot in the arm from this episode, and characters move in different directions. The surprise at the end is another classic Friends moment, and it is a well paced and well written episode. The episode also marks the return of Regina Phalange, and also the wonderful song lyrics – “This hand is your hand! This hand is my hand! Oh wait, that’s your hand! No wait, it’s my hand!”
#1: The Simpsons – Lisa the Greek
Lisa wants to spend more time with Homer, so she takes in an interest in one of Homer’s favorite past-times – football, and football betting. After going through a losing streak from various tipping services, Homer turns to Lisa who picks the Miami Dolphins to win. The Dolphins win, and Homer continues to use Lisa as his own football tipping service. Every Sunday becomes ‘Daddy Daughter Day’ with Lisa tipping winner after winner. The episode culminates on Superbowl Sunday, with the result determining whether Lisa loves Homer or not.
Why this episode is so good: this is vintage Simpsons. As well as the comedy you expect from The Simpsons, the emotion is there too. The side story with Bart going clothes shopping with Marge is funny and helps break up the Homer/Lisa story, and it helps bring out a new side to all the characters. The episode does not demonize gambling, but it does point out the perils of neglecting your child in favor of spending all Sunday on the couch betting on sports. At the end of it all, the characters learn a valuable lesson and the family can move on with their lives.