Gamblers are famous for believing in rituals that bring them good luck. But where do these gambling superstitions actually come from? When faced with pressure and uncertainty, people turn to rituals and familiar routines that give them a sense of control.
Basketball legend Michael Jordan always wore old North Carolina college shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform for luck in the game. Actor and filmmaker John Wayne never put his cowboy hat on a bed because he believed it will bring bad luck. Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose refuses to perform in cities which name begins with an ‘M’ because he believes they are cursed.
So it comes as little surprise that gambling superstitions are so popular among those rolling a dice, spinning the reels, playing a hand of poker or placing a bet on their sports team. Critics accuse superstitious gamblers of engaging in selective memory loss and carefully filtering out times when their beliefs have let them down. But with some casino superstitions based on fact while others are pure myth, there are gamblers that live by their superstitions while others think it is nonsense.
Let’s take a look at some of gambling superstitions that supposedly bring good or bad luck.
As the pain of losing lasts longer than the joy of winning, behaviours and things that are believed to bring bad luck are avoided by superstitious gambles. Below are a few of the biggest bad-luck casino superstitions:
In Western cultures the number 13 is notoriously associated with bad luck but other cultures have their own unluckily picks. In China for example, 4 is the unluckiest number because when pronounced in Chinese it sounds like the word 'death'. Any mention of 'books' around the casino table will also be highly unwelcomed for a similar reason – it is pronounced a lot like 'lose'. But it’s not all negative though. Given the number 8 sounds like 'prosperity', it is a preferred number for many Chinese players with gambling superstitions.
You may cross your fingers for good luck, but never cross your legs when placing a bet because it is believed to ‘cross out’ your good luck. Strange as it may sound, many believe in this casino superstition and will not cross their legs at the tables.
Another popular gambling superstition says you should never count your money or chips when playing. As Kenny Rogers famously sang in 'The Gambler': "you never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. There'll be time enough for counting, when the dealing's done". This superstition actually sets grounds for reasonable behaviour.
Counting your money before the game is over, or even immediately afterwards, is considered to be in extremely bad taste. Not only is it insensitive to fellow gamblers that may be down on their luck, but it’s also part of a wider belief that pride comes before a fall. So it is best to wait until you are well outside of the casino, ideally all the way back home (or in your hotel room) before totting up your night's earnings. You are also more likely to hold on to your winnings that way!
This casino superstition sounds a bit more irrational than others, but it has its avid followers nonetheless. Some gamblers believe that it is unlucky to enter the casino through the front entrance because they will come into contact with those who are leaving (likely because of a losing streak) and their bad luck will rub off on others.
Related to this gambling superstition was the problem that many gamblers had with the previous entrance to the MGM Grand casino which was shaped as a big, roaring lion’s mouth. ‘Walking into the lion’s mouth’ symbolized ‘being eaten alive’ and was considered to bring bad luck especially amongst Chinese gamblers. It was replaced in 1998, and no gambler has been reported to be ‘eaten alive’ (at least not by a lion) at the MGM Grand ever since.
Have you ever felt your palms are itchy? Depending on where you are from, there are gambling superstitions that say you are about to win money, whilst others predict you are about lose. The belief that itchy hands bring good luck has its roots in ancient African and Native American folklore. However in Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, having itchy hands means downright bad luck.
We had all seen the American mafia movies about the days Las Vegas was ruled by the mob, and legend has it that gangsters would stick in the jacket of their victims a $50 note before burying them in the Nevada desert. Since then one of the common casino superstitions, especially amongst American gamblers in Las Vegas, is that $50 bills are considered extremely unlucky. This superstition has many players refusing to accept $50 notes as payment at the casino cage.
Another gambling superstition that has some validity is that lending money to another player will bring bad luck. Many gamblers believe that lending money to a fellow gambler is an act of tempting faith by giving money away without the prospect of winning it back. Statistically, this casino superstition is based on the premise that lending money for someone else to gamble compounds the risk of not seeing that money again. And that by itself is definitely bad luck.
Whistling while playing at the casino is believed to bring bad luck. This casino superstition originates back in old times when sailors were banned from whistling onboard a ship because it was thought to encourage the winds to blow harder. Beyond a gambling superstition, it is an act of courtesy to fellow players because whistling at the tables can be downright annoying.
Gamblers will hold close to heart anything that they believe will bless them with good luck. Here are a few of the most popular casino superstitions that are believed to help players win:
In the 1955 iconic movie 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 happening even in a family game of Monopoly.
Like many other casino superstitions, this one also has a story behind it that may or may not be true. Legend has it that certain dishonest gamblers used to coat one side of their dice with a sticky substance that is activated by moisture. Blowing on the dice before rolling would then ensure it lands as they wanted. But given the high risk of the dice sticking to debris or other objects on the table, this cheat never became hugely popular. So don't be too quick to accuse a modern gambler who blows on his dice for luck. He's probably just being superstitious.
While many gamblers have lucky clothes (2005 World Series of Poker runner-up Steve Dannenmann wore the same shirt and cap every day during the seven-day tournament), this gambling superstition has a little more longevity behind it. Red is a hugely significant colour in Chinese culture which represents wealth, luck and joy among other things. Therefore red is the colour of choice at many festive occasions. At a Chinese wedding for example, it is used for everything from the bride's dress to the envelopes of money that are handed out.
Unsurprisingly, the perceived luck associated with red has many gamblers wearing a red-coloured article of clothing to increase their chances of winning. Studies have shown that statistically gamblers tend to bet on red a lot more than on black when playing at casino tables. This is probably also linked to the common thought of red being a lucky colour. Many also think that the lucky red item must be received as a gift, so it may be time to start dropping hints with your loved ones.
Many believe that an object or another person will bring them good luck. From clothing items to jewellery and rings, gamblers think that things that brought them luck in the past need to be ever present when they walk into the casino. Popular items fulfilling this casino superstition are a rabbit foot, horseshoe and a four-leaved clover. Taking the vegetation lucky-charm concept further, 10-time WSOP bracelet winner Johnny Chan famously brings an orange to every poker game he plays!
Quite a few gamblers believe that the posture they are in when placing a bet needs to be kept for the entire duration of the game, thinking that a change of position may result in a change of luck. For example, if you are standing when putting money into the slot machine, you should never sit down until after the last spin. Or alternatively if you sit at a blackjack table you should never get up until the game is finished, not even to stretch your legs. Some gamblers take this casino superstition further and will keep sitting or standing for their entire visit to the casino. So don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes for a long night of gambling!
Many gamblers have their own rituals and routines for attracting good luck, with most of these casino superstitions happening right before placing bets. Popular ones include crossing fingers, knocking on wood, stacking chips in a certain way and verbally calling out numbers or cards. Some gamblers believe that kissing a companion will bring them good luck, so make sure you bring the right partner along.
Some say that this gambling superstition is a way to mend a broken heart, but gaming history is actually full of successful punters that had luck in both love and gambling. Math genius Bill Benter is considered the richest professional gambler and has a loving wife and child. Edward E. Thorp who was the father of card counting won hundreds of millions in gambling, and he was happily married for 50 years. So if you are in a loving relationship, don’t break it up before going to the casino!
Rituals and customs that are believed to bring good luck vary across cultures, ethnic backgrounds and age groups. While some have a foundation, most gambling superstitions are based on folklore that mostly spices things up and adds a lot of fun to gambling. But whether you are wearing your favourite red underwear, carrying a horseshoe in your pocket or feeling your hands itching – always remember that it’s all about having fun, but never a proven way to win. So always have fun when gambling, by keeping safe and staying within your limits.
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