Gamblers are known as some of the most superstitious people on the planet, but where did their catalogue of traditions originate? While critics accuse gamblers who swear by their lucky charms or rituals as engaging in selective memory loss, carefully filtering out the occasions on which their trinkets have let them down, some of these superstitions have a surprisingly solid grounding in rational thought. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all of them.
Some charms and rituals can be considered bad luck and should be avoided by all superstitious gamblers. Here is a list of the top four actions, rituals and charms considered taboo in casinos:
While 13 is the most famously 'unlucky' number in western culture, thanks to the thirteenth apostle's starring role as Biblical betrayer, things get a little more crowded if you take other cultures' superstitions on board. In China, 4 is the unluckiest number, because it's an almost-homophone of the word for 'death' in Chinese. Any mention of 'books' around the table will be highly unwelcome for a similar reason – it sounds too much like 'lose'. It's not all negative, though, as 'eight' sounds like 'prosperity', making it a safer bet for superstitious players.
You may cross your fingers for good luck, but cross your legs while placing a bet and you're thought to be 'crossing out' your good luck. All the more reason to sit up straight and keep your feet on the ground.
As Kenny Rogers famously sang in 'The Gambler', "there'll be time enough for counting, when the dealing's done". This is another superstition that has a little more grounding in reasonable behaviour; counting your money before the game is over, or even immediately afterwards, is fairly considered to be in extremely bad taste. Not only is it a little insensitive to your fellow gamblers, it also falls in line with the wider superstition that pride comes before a fall. Wait until you're well outside the casino, ideally all the way home, before totting up your night's earnings – that way, you're more likely to keep hold of them.
Despite the musical references in this article (and the many others that could've been included), you won't be thanked for serenading your fellow players. Some say singing or whistling at the table angers the gambling gods, others just think it's annoying. Either way, it turns out that gambling and musical numbers don't mix quite as well as 'Viva Las Vegas' would suggest. Sorry, Elvis.
Gamblers have long been known for thier good luck charms, rituals and beliefs. Here is a list of three of the most popular good luck charms and rituals from around the world:
In 1955's Guys and Dolls, Marlon Brando pleads with the proverbial Lady Luck not to "wander all over the room and blow on some other guy's dice". Sixty years later, the belief that blowing on your dice brings good luck has become so ingrained that it's not uncommon to see it happen in a family game of Monopoly, but unlike most superstitions, it might have a basis in practicality. It's been suggested that certain unscrupulous gamblers would coat one side of their dice in a sticky substance that could be activated by moisture. Blowing on the dice before rolling was a way to ensure that each die would land as required. Given the high risk of the dice sticking to debris or other objects on the table, it was never a hugely popular cheat, so don't be too quick to accuse a modern gambler who blows on his dice for luck. He's probably just superstitious.
While many gamblers have lucky clothes (2005 World Series Poker runner-up Steve Dannenmann wore the same shirt and cap every day of the seven-day tournament), this sartorial superstition has a little more longevity behind it. Red is a hugely significant colour in China, representing, among other things, wealth, luck and joy. This makes it a recurring theme at weddings, used for everything from the bride's dress to the envelopes of money handed out, but has, unsurprisingly, also been enthusiastically adopted by gamblers. Some believe that the red item must be received as a gift, not bought, so it may be time to start dropping a few hints to your loved ones.
Demoted to a figure of speech in most circles, the lucky rabbit's foot is still cherished in gambling circles. They're not so easy to collect, though: the small print dictates that your rabbit must have been captured or killed in a cemetery. If that sounds a little too niche, four-leaf clovers and horseshoes are also popular, while many gamblers have a personal lucky charm that they bring to the table. 10-time WSOP bracelet winner Johnny Chan famously brings an orange to every poker game he plays. Initially this served as an air freshener at tables swathed in cigarette smoke; today, it's pure superstition.
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