22 Mar

Lessons in Gambling from Family Game Night

What playing family card games when growing up taught me about gambling today.

Lessons in Gambling from Family Game Night

If I told you I learned how to properly manage a gambling bankroll by the time I was 10, you’d probably think I was crazy. Or that my parents were irresponsible. Or at the least that I was a miscreant underage gambler, shooting dice in the back alley with all my delinquent friends. None of these are assumptions true, yet the fact remains.

Let me rewind to my childhood days, so you may understand where I’m coming from. Because I honestly believe the round-about lessons in gambling I received as a young child playing board games and card games with my family taught me to be the responsible gambler that I am today.

Family Game Night in the 1980’s

What playing family card games when growing up taught me about gambling today.

Take a step back in time to the mid-1980’s. The Golden Girls were rocking local prime-time television, and Nintendo Entertainment System was the hottest item on the shelves. We didn’t have computers, cell phones, or the internet. Once the sun went down, and all the evening’s sitcoms were reruns, we needed something to do. Board and card games were the most popular choice in my house!

I was about 6 when I was welcomed into the fold of adult card games. That didn’t include the big family game night, when we went to my grandparents’ house every Saturday. That was an adult-only ordeal. The kiddos were left to play Uno, Go Fish, or Crazy Eights during those big games. But at my house, learning the more sophisticated titles came early on.

I began learning to play everything from melding games like Mille and Rummy 500, to Cribbage and Canadian Fish (Literature). By the time I was 8, I also knew how to play Blackjack and your basic poker games like 5 Card Draw, Jacks or Better and 7 Card Stud.

We didn’t exactly bet on the games. There was no money on the table. We didn’t raid our piggy banks before a game, although the adults all showed up on Saturday night with their change jars in hand. What we did do, however, was take a quick trip down to the candy store…

I See Your Gumball and Raise You a Butterscotch!

Family Game Night Playing Blackjack and Poker for Candy

With just $2.00, we would purchase a bag full of penny candies. Gum balls of every color, butterscotch, cinnamon discs, cherry sours, jolly ranchers – everything in the penny bins was fair game. We’d then divvy them up between my parents and siblings and pull out the cards. We did this probably once a month, and it was so much fun!

Sometimes we would splurge, spending several dollars to get everything from penny and nickel candies to fun-size chocolate bars. Those were the best games! We tried our hardest not to wager those, because we knew we didn’t want to risk losing them. They would taste so good later. And if you happen to win a candy bar off someone else, that was the sweetest of all!

I remember on one occasion, when I was maybe 12 or 13, we decided late one summer night to play cards. It was too late to buy candy for it, but we had a large bag of M&Ms. My siblings and I stayed up all night with my mom playing until the sun came up. Then dad awoke for work, poured a cup of coffee, and drained a fistful of the chocolate-coated goodies into his mouth from my bowl.

“Noooo!” I cried as my proverbial wagering credits were chewed to bits. It became an inside joke for years to come…

But I’m not writing this to reminisce, or brag about how many card games I know or how much candy I may have eaten growing up. I’m trying to explain what all those game nights taught me as I grew into an adult with legal gambling privileges.

Lessons in Gambling from Family Game Night

Childhood Lesson: Don’t wager your favorite piece of candy, you’ll want to eat that later!

Adult Translation: Don’t bet with money you want/need to spend elsewhere.

Growing up playing card games gave me the rare, adolescent comprehension of risk versus reward, and the true value of the entertainment behind the games. I learned that just playing is fun, with or without betting. I learned when playing for stakes, betting smaller amounts made the games more enjoyable, so that I don’t have to win to have a good time. Now, I know that I can enjoy a penny slot as easily as a $1 slot – bet $5 on blackjack as easy as $20 – but I also know that if I place the cheaper bets and lose, I’ll have a lot more “candy” left in my pocket to enjoy later.

Childhood Lesson: Whoa… there’s a strategy to winning Uno!?

Adult Translation: Every game, no matter how simple it seems, has some type of strategy to be learned.

I was probably the only kid in grade school who played Uno with a discernible strategy. If you don’t think there is one (beyond saving a Wild Draw 4 for last), you clearly haven’t spent enough time playing card games with family and friends. No one taught me to mislead opponents with color clues, or get rid of same-number cards first. I just kind of figured it out on my own. And that taught me that every game can be played strategically, in some way or another, to improve your odds of winning.

Even now, when I play Bridge, Hearts, or Kaiser with the family, or when my friends get together to play Coup or Ultimate Werewolf, these lessons come in handy. We do sometimes play for small stakes, and strategy is always in the back of my mind. Because like casino games, a good time might be the ultimate goal, but it’s always a little more fun when you win!

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