Gambling seems to be a natural human activity. We have friendly bets on when Margret's baby will be born. Not-so-friendly bets on which sports team will be victorious this year. Sometimes we stake money and sometimes the stakes are less tangible.
In fiction, however, it's perfectly okay to bet people in a game of chance. Typically a comedy trope, although you might find it in serious fiction with a setting where slavery is accepted. The gambler will almost always lose.
This happens a lot with employers betting employees for whatever reason, yet the Justification — betting their employment contract rather than the employees themselves — is almost never used.
Most often the card game is poker, but theoretically any form of game that allows The Bet would work. A comedic form of the Absurdly High Stakes Game. Compare the Bachelor Auction, which is consensual on the "traded" person's part.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Done entirely seriously in the (Daniel J.) Darby the Gambler battle of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure with souls and various forms of gambling.
Tower Of God: Prince said he'd give the indebted Yeon to the person who'd win the World's Strongest Shinsoo Competition. He really didn't count on losing against Baam, but when he does, he gives Yeon up, albeit under great protest.
The soul of oneself or loved ones at stake is a common setup in Yu-Gi-Oh!, technically the good guys don't (usually) initiate such games; yet are forced to play them through anyway. For example, Pegasus and Kaiba duel for Mokuba's soul, which is literally in a card, and with Kaiba also offering his soul if he loses. He does, so his soul goes into the card.
In Kaiji, gamblers who didn't win enough onboard the Espoir were threatened with slave labor. Later, Kaiji is involved in quite a few gambits where his own physical health/life is on the line.
Liar Game vaguely implies that something similar happens to its losers, but it never goes beyond the LGT making a few sinister comments about getting their money back one way or another (though the amounts involved are high enough that they clearly cannot be paid off through normal means).
In The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the SOS Brigade are challenged to play a game against the computer club. The computer club wants to win back a computer Haruhi stole and offers three more computers should she win. Haruhi offers Yuki to balance out the bet, equating her with the three computers. When the computer club are shocked, she offers Mikuru and then herself. This last provokes panic, so in the end only their computer is wagered.
The Davy Back Fight in One Piece is essentially a sporting event with the competing crews members hanging in the balance.
In Porco Rosso, Fio offers herself as the stake for Porco and Curtis' duel since Porco didn't have anything else to bet. (Porco tries to object but is quickly overruled.)
A variation of this in Black Butler when Ciel and Sebastian meet the spirit of a dead prince in a castle Ciel recently purchased. The prince and Ciel play a game of chess to pass the time, and Ciel reluctantly bets Sebastian, because the prince's dead little brother took a liking to him. Ciel loses. Although he gets Sebastian back, of course.
The threat of such is used as motivation for Team Hokage to win in The Flame of Recca - In order to participate in the Tournament Arc, they have to stake something that the other side wants, so MacGuffin Girl Yanagi volunteers for the job.
This almost happens to Empowered, except the others playing refuse to accept her as a bet due to the 'unwritten rules'- they don't want a superhero team after them just 'cause one idiot tried to use a heroine in a poker game, thanks.
After the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, after an almost 90-year drought, a fake ad was aired for Master Card that showed various Red Sox fans saying things like, "Oh, I'd trade my car," "I'd trade my house," "I'd trade my firstborn son for the Red Sox to win the World Series!," followed by a montage of these people's pledged items being ruthlessly confiscated - right up to the toddler who delightedly squeals, "Go Sox!" as he's carried away... It ended with the logo of two interlocking circles... followed by one circle falling away with a "snip" noise while someone voiced-over, "OW." Denis Leary had pledged his left nut.
In Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce pulls out of a card game when his opponent bets a slave. Needless to say, a serious example.
Honeymoon in Vegas
Starts off the plot of Ruggles of Red Gap
In Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Will Turner bets his soul against Davy Jones' key on a game of Liar's Dice. His father intentionally loses, to spare Will the forfeit.
An unfortunate man lost his wife to the brewer in Yojimbo.
In Hot Tub Time Machine, one of the time-travelling main characters finds himself watching the last minutes of a 1980s football game that he knows will go to the other side with a last second score. Naturally, he goads another spectator into making a bet, and the stakes eventually rise to the spectator betting a blowjob by his wife, vs the main character doing the blowjob to his best friend in front of everybody... The main character loses because of a Spanner in the Works squirrel that got in the time machine with them showing up in the pitch and tripping the player that was going to make the last second score.
The Robert Asprin novel Little Myth Marker, part of his Myth Adventures series. The title is a reference to Little Miss Marker. Subverted in that is later revealed that this was done deliberately on the orders of the "kid" bet so as to infiltrate the hero's household.
In the Star Wars book series, Han wins a planet in a card game that turns out to be inhabited. By a Witch Species, to boot. And of course, it's been long established that the transfer of everyone's favourite Cool Ship from Lando to Han occurred in the same way.
In one book, Han and Leia (who'd had an almighty row a couple of chapters earlier) run into an old acquaintance of his, and when Leia asks him how they met he names the trope all but word for word. Leia was not amused, and Han has to rather quickly reassure her that he was a slave-owner for no longer than it took to file the necessary manumission paperwork.
In the Fate of the Jedi series, a reporter on a world with legalized slavery wins a slave from one of the locals. She proceeds to interview him on camera, then frees him on the spot and hires him on as a member of her film crew.
Erast Fandorin bet the heroine against a donkey in The Turkish Gambit (both the book and the movie), for a lack of any money or means of transportation. But then, as he is quick to point out, he was Born Lucky, and so knew he was not risking anything.
Last Call by Tim Powers is about a poker player who thought he won a huge pot in a game years ago... only to discover that he traded away his body and soul to the guy organizing the game. And now he's got to win it back before the guy comes to collect...
In Declare by the same author, the protagonist and traitor Kim Philby gamble for the Love Interest versus a scroll detailing the secret of eternal life. The game is interrupted, but Philby insists on completing the game when they meet up again in Moscow.
On more than one occasion, PG Wodehouse's writing featured an Upper Class Twit who includes his or her domestic servant as stakes in some sort of harebrained wager.
Hawk from the Hawk And Fisher novels once claimed to have lost his missing eye in a card game, although he was joking.
In Chess With A Dragon, some insectoid aliens are shown engaged in some sort of gambling game. The biggest loser of the evening is said to be dangerously close to "gracing the table", i.e. becoming dinner for the winners.
In The Good Soldier Svejk, Svejk becomes batman of army chaplain Otto Katz, but Katz loses him at cards to Lieutenant Lukáš.
In one of Georgette Heyer's short stories, a man bets his half-sister in a game of hazard. She's so angry that she leaves willingly enough (with the hero, who she's in love with) and punishes the hero for playing the game by threatening to cause a scandal and make him marry her (as he's engaged to someone else).
One of the characters in Jeannette Winterson's The Passion bets his own life in a card game and loses. But he says it was worth it.
In the course of a long night of dice, Athos of The Three Musketeers stakes horses, a diamond that does not belong to him, and his servant Grimaud. After several losses, he retrieves the diamond, Grimaud, and the horse's harness— but not the horse.
This happens to the protagonist in one of Angela Carter's retellings of Beauty And The Beast. Her father loses her to the "beast" (she notes that it's not that he cared more about gambling than his daughter, just equally much). And then he turns out to be a tiger in human's clothes and she turns into one too and willingly stays with him while sending back to her father a clockwork version of herself because clearly that's all he wants. This must be symbolic of something...
Bryony House in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy books is the only one whose adepts will gamble for their favours. It is said they very rarely lose. Hyacinthe's mother, a virgin at the time, was wagered by her cousin. Three guesses how that turned out.
One of Roald Dahl's short stories concerns a man who bets his daughter's hand in marriage that a wine-taster cannot figure out exactly where a wine came from. As the story goes on the wine taster only gets closer and closer to the truth, much to the daughter's horror. At the end it turns out the reason he was getting so close was that he had peeked at the label before, and though the resolution isn't shown, one can presume this means the bet is off.
In the Liaden Universe novel Plan B, there's a character who's fallen so low that not only did his last master stake him in a card game, the bet was that the loser had to keep him.
Happens to Ruti in The Red Tent; Laban gambles her away. Knowing she'll be mistreated (not that she was being treated well before), she appeals to Leah for help. Leah and Jacob meet the men who were coming to pick up Ruti and with some effort get them to agree to take a bunch of their possessions instead of Ruti. Unfortunately for Ruti, this results in Laban treating her even worse than before.
In Plum Lucky, Diesel adds Stephanie to the pot in a high-stakes poker game. Fortunately for her (the opponent is highly unpleasant), Diesel wins.
In Iron Council, Judah had to go on the run after his employer lost him in a card game. His flight was justified, as his boss hadn't actually owned Judah in the first place.
Mandala 10, Hymn 34 (dated to 1,100 B.C. or older) of the Rig-Veda is the lament of a gambling addict who has lost not only all his property, but also his wife in games of dice.
In Troubled Range by J.T. Edson, a friend of Mark Counter's accidentally wins a wife in a poker game. The friend thought the ship's captain he was playing against had been betting his ship when he tossed in the marker with the name written on it.
Live Action TV
NewsRadio did this with Bill, who is appalled when he learns that he was bet against a mixing board until he's told the board is worth millions. It is explained as being a clause in Bill's contract. Being lost in a card game is apparently defined as an act of God, as the contract refers to Jimmy James as God.
Pushing Daisies does this with a man bargaining his daughter off for marriage.
In S-Club 7 in Miami, their boss at the hotel where they work loses them in a poker game to a rival hotel owner.
In an episode of Bonanza, a man won a compulsive gambler's wife, and didn't see anything wrong with making sure he collected.
In season 3 of Desperate Housewives, Mike and Ian bet Susan in a poker game when they're both vying for her heart.
Borderline example in Knight Rider: Michael deliberately lost KITT in a game with the episode's bad guy, as part of a plan to take him down. Unfortunately he didn't bother to explain it to KITT beforehand.
In the MASH episode, "The Moose", a new sergeant arrives at the 4077th with his "moose" (a Korean girl servant) named Young-Hi. Hawkeye rigs a poker game against the sergeant and wins Young-Hi. Hilarity ensues when Hawkeye tries to let Young-Hi go.
An episode of The Odd Couple has Oscar lose Felix to guest star Bobby Riggs as a glorified butler. Oscar offers to try to win his freedom back but Felix wins it back himself by holding a note longer than Riggs.
Oscar: I'll win you back, buddy!
Felix: No you won't. You'll lose double or nothing and I'll have to bring in my brother from Buffalo!
In The Beiderbecke Affair, Jill Swinburne loses her boyfriend, Trevor Chaplain, to his former fiancee, Helen of Tadcaster, in a coin-toss after a night of heavy drinking. Mrs Swinburne honours her agreement with Helen, but Mr Chaplain goes back to her anyway because "nobody wins me at the toss of a coin." It is strongly suggested that this is a new development in Trevor's persona since the time when he and Helen were engaged.
A Simon episode featured Duke Stone at a poker table betting his butler because he was two dollars short of the money needed to match the last bet and his nephew wouldn't allow him to pay later. Simon won that round. In the end, Duke offered his gardener in exchange to get his butler back.
Mark: I don't even know how to say this. I am so sorry, and I will do my best to visit you on holidays. Ann: Thanks. You tried. Mark: I guess you're his now. Ann: Do you want to get out of here? Mark: I do. Ann: Okay. Bye, Andy. [they leave, cut to Confession Cam] Andy: I know that legally Ann is now mine, but it weirdly doesn't feel that way. [the next day] Ann: I hope I'm not going to have to explain to you that you don't actually own me. Andy: Of course not. I never for one second thought that that was for real.
In an episode of Gilligan's Island, the Skipper and Mr. Howell bet on their turtles racing, eventually with Mr. Howell "winning" Gilligan from the Skipper. After losing more times, the Skipper has nothing left to bet, but Mr. Howell finally has him choose which hand has a pebble. When the Skipper chooses wrongly again, Mr. Howell delivers Gilligan back to him. When the Skipper protests that he lost, Mr. Howell cites all the damage Gilligan did while working for him and says whoever has Gilligan is the loser.
In the Red Dwarf episode "Entangled", Lister loses Rimmer while playing poker with GELFs.
Cat: We're all deeply sorry, bud. Except for me and him and him.
Primeval: Abby's brother loses Team Pet Rex in a card game. Connor and Becker get him back.
Happens to the the narrator of the song "My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist" by The Decemberists.
"...'til the money got tight, and they [his parents] bet me away to a blind brigadier in a game of high stakes canasta."
Mythology and Religion
This is the driving feature behind the Pandavas' exile in the Mahabharata. Yudishtra, the Crown Prince, has but one fault - a propensity to gamble. His evil Uncle Shakuni invites him to gamble with his cousin who craves the throne. However, Shakuni has cheating dice. Yudisthra bets and loses everything he owns and then begins to wager his brothers, then himself, then his wife, Draupadi. She is dragged, shrieking, by her hair, into the assembly, and is ordered to be stripped. As they do it, she cries out to Lord Krishna, who transforms her sari into a neverending sari. When they fall down from exhaustion from pulling at the folds, she delivers such an impassioned and resentful speech at Yudisthra's family - her in-laws after all - about her vile treatment, that they agree to give the brothers back their lives and change it to exile from the kingdom instead.
In the Doctor Who story "The Stones of Venice", the Duke of Venice gambled his wife away in a game of chance. In response, she put a hundred-year curse on the city, and the Doctor and Charley arrive the day before the curse is due to take effect.
Happens to several people in a really high-stakes poker game among supernatural beings, in a fictional interlude of the Underworld RPG rulebook. Souls, sanity, intellects and destinies were all laid on the table once the betting got hot.
A supernatural poker game also occurs in the To Go module for Unknown Armies. One match is "jailhouse eightball", where the players bet things they want to get rid of. One player bets the cancer her son is suffering from, another bets one of his enemies.
A sidequest in Knights of the Old Republic II involves a man who's lost his girlfriend in a Pazaak game. You can win her the same way; if you do, you learn she doesn't want to go back to him, and actually won't unless you threaten to sell her to the Hutts. It isn't clear how he could claim ownership to transfer either way, as this took place on a Republic station, but there is a Mafia-like presence there so it's plausible she would become a victim of trafficking.
Grandia III has Lovable Rogue Alonso trying to win his ship back from the (female) casino owner who won it earlier in a rigged game. When he runs out of material possessions to bet, he bets himself: if he loses, he'll marry the owner (who has been after him for years, but is quite ugly in both face and personality).
Friendly Hostility: Collin wins Bootsie in a poker game. As well, Rafi loses toddler Fatima in a poker game (to a pair of friendly cannibals hosting a dinner party!) and he and Padma must scramble to retrieve her.
In Sluggy Freelance, Riff at one point mentions that his assistant (when he ran a company for anti-monster equipment) lost her family to vampires. He then specifies that she lost them in a poker game.
In S.S.D.D. Tessa apparently won her robot boyfriend Sticks in a card game, granted he was a just sex robot and wasn't fully self-aware until Tessa modified him (to make him more interesting for resale).
In an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Mr. Krabs bets Spongebob in a poker match with Plankton. Plankton tries forcing SpongeBob to make a Krabby Patty, but only becomes frustrated when he refuses. When Plankton finally gives up and gives SpongeBob back to Mr. Krabs, he admits he cheated. More plausible in that he didn't bet the sponge himself, but Spongebob's contract of employment.
In an episode of King of the Hill, Hank is lost by his boss Buck Strickland to rival propane shop owner M. F. Thatherton! Buck mentions he usually bets Joe Jack, so this must happen often.
Subverted in The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. K'nuckles bets Flapjack in a card game, and wins, getting another cabin boy as the prize. However, Flapjack is so insulted about this that he leaves and becomes a banker.
Happened in an episode of Johnny Bravo where Johnny was bet and lost by Momma to a big game hunter (a character homage to Sydney Greenstreet) in a poker game. He cheated in an obvious manner but it took the length of the episode for Momma to realize this and come to Johnny's rescue.
On the season 12 The Simpsons episode "Children of a Lesser Clod" (the episode where Homer starts a home day care center after breaking his knee in a basketball accident), one of the video clips of how much of a horrible father Homer is to Bart, Lisa, and Maggie shows Homer betting Maggie in a poker game — and losing her to Moe Szyslak.
One of the comics ended up with Smithers temporarily being Homer's assistant under similar circumstances.
In the episode "The Burns and the Bees", Mr. Burns and some other billionaires were reunited for a card game and Burns added Smithers into the pot. Rich Texan said that, since they were betting people, he'd add his basketball team. Despite thinking they're "hardly worth a Smithers", Burns accepted it. And won.
Burns and Rich Texan once waged all their wordly possessions on a scavenger hunt. Once Rich Texan won, he started riding Smithers as if he was another prize. Sure, Smithers' employment contract was more likely to be linked to the power plant rather than Mr. Burns but still...
Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi "Bad Manager" Kaz bets Ami and Yumi in a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Different game, same plot. Slick Shady, who won the girls, actually did a better job managing their careers than Kaz usually does. Despite this, Ami and Yumi challenged for a Rock-Paper-Scissors game for the right to return to Kaz.
Grim bets himself and loses in a game of limbo, however it did set the series in motion, so it's not a total loss.
In an episode of Hey Arnold!, the freeloader Oscar bets the baby he's supposed to be looking after in a high-stakes poker game after he realizes he's out of chips. The other players refuse to accept this and storm out. Turns out Oscar had a royal flush, so it's not as bad as it looks.
He was betting a baby (that wasn't his). Is as bad as it looks.
In an episode of The Mask, Stanley sold his soul to the Devil, known in this series as "Bob". The Mask challenged Bob to a dance contest for his freedom. When he lost, Bob challenged Mask for a Double Or Nothing rematch, which Bob lost, resulting on him having to be Mask's servant.
In The Venture Brothers episode "What Colour Is Your Cleansuit?", Billy Quizboy's Arch-Enemy, St. Cloud, challenges Billy to a quiz competition, asking him to bet his heterosexual life partner Pete White. (Because Pete is an albino, and St. Cloud collects those.) Billy accepts without hesitation, much to Pete's annoyance. He wins.