Music has a way of speaking to people in a more memorable fashion than books or movies. Music can tap into something deeper, which is probably why these 5 classic gambling songs have remained so popular throughout the decades.
Each of these 5 songs has captured the excitement and potential despair associated with any card game, through the highs and lows, the folds and the holds. So what makes the list?
Kentucky Gambler is a famous Dolly Parton song written back in 1974, but don’t let the date fool you, this story song follows a Kentucky miner who leaves his family back home to head to Reno for an affair with Lady Luck.
The song is a constant reminder that if you play casinos online, you need to know when to walk away a winner. This Kentucky gambler wins everything he plays, but he doesn’t know when to quit. In the end, he loses half, then all of his winnings only to return to a wife who has moved on.
The song was so popular that it was covered by The Strangers and Merle Haggard.
Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler was not exclusively a Kenny Rogers song. In fact, it was written in 1976 by Don Schlitz, and performed by multiple singers including Bobby Bare. Not until Kenny Rogers came along did it land on the pop charts and even take home a Grammy.
The lyrics tell a story of a meeting on a train between a gambler and a narrator who teaches him to know when to hold and fold, when to walk away and to never count money at the table. The main thread is to know what is worth throwing away or losing, and what should be held on to.
So famous was the song over time that it was used during an MLB World Series commercial, played in Rogers’ hometown during a Houston Gamblers football game, and used for the Rugby World Cup where it was piped into the dressing rooms.
It was also featured in card game scenes for films like Richard Jewell, George of the Jungle 2, and the trailer for Army of the Dead. Rogers himself performed it for a Geico commercial back in 2014. It plays in many TV shows in the background, during credits, or performed by an actor such as an episode of The Office, or the Supernatural.
The Muppet Show has an episode from 1979 where Rogers sings with one of the characters, recreating the scene talked about in the lyrics between the gambler and the narrator.
Viva Las Vegas
This Elvis Presley hit follows a man having the best time in Las Vegas. The lights are so bright with their flashing neon that he knows he will walk away a winner. The thrill of the city is brought to life with the numerous games played including craps, roulette, poker, and blackjack.
Released in 1964, this classic became one of the most widely known from Presley, selling over 500,000 copies across the US alone. The song was so popular it was made into a movie by the same name, featuring The King himself.
The song is in an episode of Friends and is included in The Baby Boss and Looney Tunes films. It was used as the victory theme for the NHL. It has been covered by dozens of artists including The Thrills, Allison Crowe for the Army of the Dead film, and Shawn Colvin for The Big Lebowski. Versions of it appear in a viagra commercial, a Scooby Doo film, part of a Bruce Springsteen act, and in short animation features.
“Gambling Man”, released in the UK in 2010, is the first single to come from The Overtones. This doo-wop boy band featured British and Irish members all of whom are visible in the accompanying music video.
While this tale doesn’t follow the poor luck of a Kentucky Gambler, it offers the same types of gambling and poker themes in a love song that highlights how the singer is not a gambling man, nor has he won with unfavorable odds, but he would be willing to risk everything for love.
Clearly, this gambler has learned the lesson about not leaving behind a woman he loves to head to Reno.
Moonlight Gambler was performed by Frankie Lanie with a rich accompaniment by an orchestra. The song was so popular around the world in 1957 that it reached the top singles chart in the UK and the pop chart in the U.S. The lyrics take the gambling and love concepts of The Overtones just a bit further as the singer makes it clear that you can gamble for gold, for matchsticks, for big or small wins, but the biggest gamble of all is that of love. This same song has since been covered by Gene Barry in 1962, Winifred Atwell in 2001, and again in 2010 by T. Storm Hunter.
Classic gambling songs have played a significant role in the history of popular music, reflecting the enduring appeal and cultural significance of gambling in various societies. These songs often celebrate the thrill and excitement of gambling, as well as the accompanying highs and lows.
Whether it’s the bluesy lament of a losing streak, the brash confidence of a hot hand, or the wry humor of a hustler, classic gambling songs capture a wide range of emotions and experiences.
From the swanky casinos of Las Vegas to the backroom poker games of the Deep South, gambling has provided endless inspiration for musicians and songwriters.
Whether you’re a fan of traditional blues and jazz, rock and roll, country, or hip hop, there’s certainly a classic gambling song out there for you.