Created By: Garvalan on June 4, 2011 Last Edited By: Xtifr on August 17, 2011
Troped

Trapped By Gambling Debts

A character will do anything to get gambling debts pardoned.

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Trope
This seems to be abandoned, but I think it's an excellent trope. I've given it a slightly better name, but the name is very much up for discussion and suggestions are welcomed. Also Needs More Examples.

Indexes: Characters as Device, Heel/Face Index, Organized Crime Tropes


You need a character to betray your hero, or kidnap someone, or be The Mole. But you don't want him (this trope rarely applies to women) to do it For the Evulz, so they need a motivation. The easiest one is that they need lots of quick money. And why would they?

This trope is the answer. They have been gambling too much and now have to pay or face serious consequences, ranging from Knee-capping to actual death. So the evil guys blackmail them into whatever they need in exchange of having their debts paid. That does it: They're not evil, just desperate.

It's an easy move, because you have a character with a dangerous flaw and a clear motivation, but who still can be good if the story needs it. Kind of a Discredited Trope maybe because of that, specially in spy stories, but still used occasionally.

Often happens to The Gambling Addict, especially after an Absurdly High-Stakes Game. May be the victim of the Professional Gambler.

Examples:

Anime&Manga
  • Kaiji is constantly trying to find a way to pay off his debt. It usually ends up with him in worse debt.

Comic Books
  • In one of the origins of The Joker he was a poor schlub who needed to pay off his gambling debts so he got roped into being the Red Hood (the alleged head of a gang but really just a guy the rest of the gang hires to be The Face of the Gang), then fell in a vat of chemicals and became the Joker.
  • In TinTin, this is how Colonel Boris/Jorgen trapped Frank Wolff into becoming The Mole.
  • A series of Get Fuzzy comic strips had Bucky faced with the threat of getting killed by another cat, because he lost a bet on a baseball game and didn't have enough money to pay the debt. The team that Bucky bet on was the Mariners, but he lost that bet because one of their players had retired before he even made the bet.

Film
  • The plot of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels is driven by the main character's need to pay off a massive gambling debt owed to the gangster Hatchet Harry. Harry's hoping to use the debt to force the guy's father to hand over his pub.
  • In the movie Dirty Work, the gambling-addicted Dr. Farthing (Chevy Chase) will only raise Pops on the heart transplant list if he is paid $50,000 to save him from his bookie.
  • In Lucky Number Slevin, the Boss and The Rabbi rope Slevin into their war by mistaking him for Nick Fisher, a lowlife who owes them tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, Slevin planned for the mobsters to mistake him for Fisher.
  • In A Knight's Tale, William bails Geoffrey Chaucer out of his gambling debts, and in return, Chaucer travels as Will's herald.

Literature
  • 24 Hours in the Life of a Woman has a man ready to comit suicide because he lost all his money. The title woman saves him, gives him money for a fresh new start... and he wastes it gambling again.
  • Black Library novel Hammers of Ulric has Anspach the Templar and his debts to the head of the criminal organization in Middenheim.
  • In the Lord Darcy novel Too Many Magicians, uncovering one character's gambling debts and the associated blackmail forms a major subplot.

Live-Action TV
  • In at least one episode of the Poirot series of Agatha Christie adaptations starring David Suchet, a character was persuaded to get involved in a jewel robbery to pay off a gambling debt.
  • One of Garibaldi's men is compromised this way in an early episode of Babylon 5.
  • Veronica Mars has Jacky's father who is blackmailed into working security for a morally ambiguous casino owner in order to pay off his debt.

Radio
  • In the first Harry Nile episode, Harry owes a gambling debt to a mob boss and is sent to kill a guy to pay it back.

Real Life
  • Truth in Television as far as the Mafia were/are concerned. A favourite way for them to get their hooks into a business was to let a gambling-addicted owner run up impossible debts with a mob bookie.
  • One of the reasons Marc Anthony was so loyal to Gauis Julius Caesar was that the latter covered his gambling and prostitute debts that in modern terms stacked up to about five million USD.

Tabletop Games
  • In Magic: The Gathering, Liliana Vess made a Deal with the Devil with four archdemons in order to gain eternal youth. Being the selfish woman she is, she decides to try to get out of it by killing them. She's one-fourth of the way there.

Video Games
  • In the Ace Attorney series, Glen Elg.
  • In the second Knights of the Old Republic, a Twi'lek laborer is so addicted to Pazaak that he gambled away his girlfriend. You can play the dealer he owes the debt to in order to bail out the girlfriend. Either she dumps her idiot boyfriend, you order her to go with her idiot boyfriend, or you can take ownership of her yourself and keep her wages while telling the idiot boyfriend he's out of luck.
Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • June 5, 2011
    captainbrass2
    • In at least one episode of the Poirot series of Agatha Christie adaptations starring David Suchet, a character was persuaded to get involved in a jewel robbery to pay off a gambling debt.
    • Averted in the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, in which Holmes advises a banker who is convinced his son, who is in debt from gambling, has stolen the titular headgear from his safe as a result. It turns out he hasn't.
    • Truth In Television as far as the Mafia were/are concerned. A favourite way for them to get their hooks into a business was to let a gambling-addicted owner run up impossible debts with a mob bookie.
  • June 5, 2011
    ElaineRose
    Real Life example:
    • One of the reasons Marc Anthony was so loyal to Julius Caesar was that the latter covered his gambling and prostitute debts that in modern terms stacked up to about five million USD.
  • June 5, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In one of the origins of The Joker he was a poor schlub who needed to pay off his gambling debts so he got roped into being the Red Hood (the alleged head of a gang but really just a guy the rest of the gang hires to be The Face of the Gang), then fell in a vat of chemicals and became the Joker.
  • June 6, 2011
    Garvalan
    24 hours in the life of a woman has a man ready to comit suicide because he lost all his money. The title woman saves him, gives him money for a fresh new start... and he wastes it gambling again.
  • June 6, 2011
    FalconPain
    In the Ace Attorney series, Glen Elg.
  • June 6, 2011
    captainbrass2
    Another underworld example, this time fictional - the plot of Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels is driven by the main character's need to pay off a massive gambling debt owed to the gangster Hatchet Harry. Harry's hoping to use the debt to force the guy's father to hand over his pub.
  • June 6, 2011
    Fanra
    In the movie Dirty Work, the gambling-addicted Dr. Farthing (Chevy Chase) will only raise Pops on the heart transplant list if he is paid $50,000 to save him from his bookie.
  • June 7, 2011
    cocoy0
    Black Library novel Hammers of Ulric has Anspach the Templar and his debts to the head of the criminal organization in Middenheim. (Will add info, must reread book.)
  • June 7, 2011
    Xtifr
    In the Lord Darcy novel Too Many Magicians, uncovering one character's gambling debts and the associated blackmail forms a major subplot.
  • June 8, 2011
    Allronix
    In the second Knights Of The Old Republic, a Twi'lek laborer is so addicted to Pazaak that he gambled away his girlfriend. You can play the dealer he owes the debt to in order to bail out the girlfriend. Either she dumps her idiot boyfriend, you order her to go with her idiot boyfriend, or you can take ownership of her yourself and keep her wages while telling the idiot boyfriend he's out of luck.
  • June 8, 2011
    Augustine
    Kaiji is constantly trying to find a way to pay off his debt. It usually ends up with him in worse debt.
  • July 25, 2011
    Xtifr
    Bump. This seems like a good trope, but has seemingly been abandoned. I'll pick it up if no one else wants it. More examples welcomed.
  • July 25, 2011
    noblesix
    • The Boss and The Rabbi rope Slevin into their war by mistaking him for Nick Fisher, a lowlife who owes them tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, Slevin planned for the mobsters to mistake him for Fisher.
  • July 26, 2011
    noblesix
  • July 26, 2011
    captainbrass2
    The title is a bit vague. It might be better to have something more precisely describing the trope, such as Debt Drives The Plot. Also, why limit the description to situations where the character is blackmailed into evil actions because of gambling debts, since not all the examples are of people who become evil? It's more to do with a character's actions generally being driven by the need to pay back debts or by gratitude to someone who has repaid them.
  • July 26, 2011
    Xtifr
    It doesn't necessarily drive the plot -- in many cases, it's something that happens to a side character. But I could definitely see renaming to something like Controlled By Debt. (Other suggestions welcomed.)
  • July 27, 2011
    BraveHoratio
    • One of Garibaldi's men is compromised this way in an early episode of Babylon 5.
  • August 10, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    Is it just me, or was this more common before casino gaming became widespread (and legally controlled via licensing) in the US?
  • August 10, 2011
    Mimimurlough
    old favourite of Agatha Christie
  • August 11, 2011
    Xtifr
    I'm going to work on the description to this one a bit before I launch it. More examples welcome in the meantime.
  • August 13, 2011
    Dorsk_e2i
    This is how Colonel Boris/Jorgen trapped Frank Wolff into becoming The Mole.
  • August 13, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    In Magic The Gathering Liliana Vess made a Deal with the Devil with four archdemons in order to gain eternal youth. Being the selfish woman she is, she decides to try to get out of it by killing them. She's one-fourth of the way there.
  • August 13, 2011
    Aspie
    Radio
    • In the first Harry Nile episode, Harry owes a gambling debt to a mob boss and is sent to kill a guy to pay it back.
  • August 13, 2011
    CaveCat
    A series of Get Fuzzy comic strips had Bucky faced with the threat of getting killed by another cat, because he lost a bet on a baseball game and didn't have enough money to pay the debt. The team that Bucky bet on was the Mariners, but he lost that bet because one of their players had retired before he even made the bet.
  • August 14, 2011
    Xtifr
    I'm probably going to launch this tomorrow.
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