"You can't lose if you don't play."A character who likes a flutter, to the extent where it becomes a habit or starts to cause problems. At the less extreme end, the character will stick to small bets and simply enjoys the game. In some cases they may even be able to make a profit from their gambling. At the more extreme end, the character is fully addicted and quite capable of ruining their own finances, lives and those of the people around them. Perhaps more common in older works and literature, when people had to make their own entertainment and card games were a much more common social activity. Sometimes a character develops this trait temporarily, usually in a sitcom. In these cases their new habit will often lead to a big loss, and the rest of the episode will be spent trying to recover the money or property. It's also a very convenient "habit" for a writer to use as a Compressed Vice because, as an emotional addiction, it doesn't carry outward signs that would have to be written in or accounted for later, and, as a legal or quasi-legal addiction, can be fully depicted in even some Family Friendly works and more "realistic" as an addiction for some characters than, say, heroin. Unfortunately, this often leads viewers to believe it is a Compressed Vice in real life - when real life gambling addicts range the spectrum from Compressed Vice/temporary irresponsibility to those who literally cannot stop and do incur problems with the criminal justice system or are even Driven to Suicide. The difference between the Professional Gambler and the Gambling Addict is that the Professional Gambler is actually more of a combination of risky investor, actor and mathematician/logician, whereas Gambling Addicts often don't know or care about the odds or strategies to play them for the best possible outcome, nor do they Know When to Fold 'Em. In fact, the Gambling Addict often picks games that can't be influenced by acting or by analytical skill, such as roulette, slots, video poker, keno, or lotteries. They may think they have a "system", though. Rather than for any calculable gain, they play for the thrill and the prospect of the win that will come "any day" but likely never does (or does, but they lose it again); if they try to stop, they will find they cannot because they are hooked on this feeling. Not to be confused with The Gambler. Often leads to being Trapped by Gambling Debts. Gambling Addiction may lead to an Absurdly High-Stakes Game. If a story arc focuses on a character becoming this, it's an example of Descent into Addiction.
— Marla Daniels, The Wire
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Anime & Manga
- Kaiji from Kaiji is also suffering from this after the end of the first season. He still hadn't learned his lesson.
- Tsunade from Naruto fits it quite nicely. She is so bad at gambling that she considers it a bad omen when she hits a lucky streak. And as it turns out, she got it from her grandfather, the First Hokage.
- In Pokémon Special, we have Gold and the gaming corner in GSC (hints are towards it being an habit; and his Togepi "inherits" it), and then the Compressed Vice version with Platinum Berlitz and the game corner at Sinnoh years later during the DP arc.
- Eisuke Kitamura in Stepping on Roses (aka Hadashi De Bara Wo Fume), much to the chagrin of the protagonist, his sister Sumi. This combined with his habit of constantly bringing orphaned children home with him has the family up to their ears in debt at the beginning of the series.
- Although its based on market arbitraging, and not gambling for pleasure, Spice and Wolf's Lawrence Craft often takes risks for profit, and makes quite a good living from it. When he hits an extreme debt, he does consider the method of gambling for pleasure as a means to pay it off.
- Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop.
- Lelouch from Code Geass, before Becoming the Mask, was a heavy gambler who often skipped classes to run off to casinos and nobles' residences. It stopped when he donned the alter-ego Zero, but regardless he still used his gambling addiction as a cover for his operations.
- Yasui, a minor character from 3-gatsu no Lion, is known to gamble (and drink) away into the night in order to cope with his losses in his professional shogi matches.
- Nanami's father from Kamisama Kiss. The story begins with her being kicked out of her house because of his gambling debts.
- Sakyo of YuYu Hakusho gambles obsessively as a way of sublimating his psychopathic tendencies to more profitable ventures than, say, becoming a serial killer. Fortunately for him, he's very good at it. Unfortunately for everyone else, he eventually gets bored with mundane gambling and decides to gamble with the lives of people and demons.
- The ironically-named Lucky Smurf in The Smurfs comic book story "The Gambling Smurfs". He hardly ever seems to win at gambling, but he'll never stop betting on something.
- Golden Age Green Lantern villain the Gambler comes from a long line of gambling addicts.
- In the Tintin comic Explorers on the Moon, Frank Wolff turns out to have been this; Colonel Jorgen first persuaded him to work for him by paying off his gambling debts in exchange for classified information. And in The Castafiore Emerald, Castafiore's accompanist Wagner is the first suspect in the theft of her jewels when Tintin finds out that he sneaks out of the house every day; turns out he's actually going to the village to place bets.
- Rudy, in The World of Lily Wong.
Films — Live-Action
- In A Cure for Pokeritis (1912), possibly the first depiction of poker on film, a Henpecked Husband pretends to join a fraternal lodge so he'll have a cover story for when he goes out to play poker.
- James Caan's The Gambler (1974) is the definitive masterpiece.
- Frankie Four Fingers from Snatch. definitely falls under this category. Every single character that knows about his gambling tries to either desperately keep him from it, or trick him into it. He's called Four Fingers for a reason.
- Given the setting of the movie as an underground poker world, many of the characters in Rounders.
- The title character of Bob Le Flambeur ("Bob the Gambler") is a Gentleman Thief and an all-around great guy, except he's hopelessly addicted to gambling, which he does all day and night, and even has a slot machine in his apartment that he is shown playing several times during the film.
- In The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, both the title character and the Devil. While the Devil controls their relationship, he also gives up several opportunities to win because it would end their game.
- The main character in Bad Lieutenant Port Of Call New Orleans (among his many other addictions).
- Dr. John Watson is heavily implied to be one in the 2009 Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film and its sequel. This was taken from the original stories.
- Chaucer in A Knight's Tale arrives on the scene naked, due to losing everything gambling. He loses them again at the very next tournament, and goads the others in a group to bet everything they have on William in yet another tournament.
- James Garner's character in Support Your Local Gunfighter cannot keep or win a dime for all his gambling. Until the very last bet he makes and wins, making him and his new bride extremely wealthy.
- Owning Mahowny, a 2003 film based on the real-life story of a Canadian bank manager who embezzled money from accounts to support his gambling addiction.
- In Little Miss Marker Shirley Temple's father doesn't have $20 to bet on a horse, so he leaves Shirley with the bookie as collateral. When the horse doesn't win, he kills himself rather than scrounge up $20 to reclaim Shirley.
- Savages Crossing: Phil is a killer psychopath who bankrupted his family because of his gambling addiction.
- In Michael Clayton, Michael has a gambling problem that he tries to keep under control by never gambling more money than he has. He gets into trouble with a loan shark because he invested all his money in his brother's restaurant so he had to borrow more to keep up his gambling habit. It is also implied that his gambling addiction is the reason he works as The Fixer for a shady law firm as it is the only way he can earn enough to keep gambling.
- In Heat, Chris Shiherlis, a member of Neil McCauley's crew, spends all of his reward money from their heists gambling in Las Vegas and betting on the Super Bowl. It's why his marriage is falling apart.
- The Gambler, a novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky is the story of a young tutor who gets hopelessly addicted to playing roulette. Dostoyevsky was himself a gambling addict and wrote the book in just 30 days to pay off a gambling debt.
- Phillipe Bridau from Honoré de Balzac's The Black Sheep / La Rabouilleuse, who not only loses all his own money, but steals all his family's money and loses that too, becoming (temporarily) destitute. Also from this book, Madame Descoignes, who, in contrast, only spends what she can afford but still puts most of her spare money on the French lotteries.
- Mr Farebrother in George Eliot's Middlemarch, who's actually quite good at whist and can supplement his paltry income by betting. This wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't somewhat scandalous behaviour for a churchman. When his income increases, he gives up.
- Duncan Wedderburn in Alasdair Gray's Poor Things, during his elopement with Bella, visits a casino in Frankfurt and thinks he's worked out a system for roulette. At first he wins large sums, but inevitably loses it all the next day. Then he thinks his true strength is in card games, but gets cleaned out by sharps. For the rest of the trip he gambles away any money he's given at the first opportunity.
- Little Nell's grandfather in Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop believes that his gambling is an investment in Nell's future that's bound to pay off and provide for her once he dies. He borrows from Quilp to sustain his habit, leading to the loss of the eponymous shop when Quilp realizes his problem and forecloses on the loans. His constant relapses, and Nell's attempts to keep him from temptation, lead to their exile from London and inability to settle in one place for most of the rest of the book.
- In Robert E. Howard's "Shadows In Zamboula", Conan the Barbarian claims to be this, that he hired his room in advance to avoid losing the money to do so at the gambling table.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire gives us Ludo Bagman, a Ministry of Magic official who's introduced running a betting pool at the Quidditch World Cup. He then acts as a minor Red Herring, offering to help Harry in the tournament for reasons he keeps to himself. It turns out that, in George's words, "he's lost everything gambling. Hasn't got two Galleons to rub together." He wanted to help Harry because he was betting on him to win the tournament, and the winnings would have squared his debt with goblin bankers. Since Harry draws with Cedric instead of winning outright, Bagman goes on the run.
- Morley Dotes from the Garrett, P.I. novels was this trope in the early part of the series, which is why he so often had to assist Garrett on a case to pay off his debts.
- Nozdryov from Dead Souls.
- In the Mahabharata, this is Yuddhisthra's one Fatal Flaw. He ends up betting his kingdom, his brothers, and their shared wife in a dice game, which proves to be the last straw in the rising conflict between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
- Another example from ancient India, Dated to 1,100 BCE or older.: Mandala 10, Hymn 34 (sometimes titled "Invocation of the Dice") of the Rig-Veda is the lament of a gambling addict who has lost all his property, including his wife, in games of dice.
(...) When I resolve "I will not play with them, I will remain behind when my friends depart",
and the brown dice, thrown on the board, have rattled, like a girl in love I seek the place of meeting.
The gamester seeks the gambling-house, and wonders, his body all afire, "Will I be lucky?"
The dice run against his desire, giving the best throws to his adversary...
- Sherlock Holmes: Possibly Dr. Watson, who admits to spending "about half [his] wound pension" betting on the races.
- In Men at Arms, Lord D'Eath is an Impoverished Patrician because his father insisted on playing Cripple Mister Onion despite being unable to tell the difference between a one and an eleven.
- Saki's "The Way to the Dairy" has a trio of sisters try to persuade their rich aunt not to leave money to a nephew of hers who is one of these. Unfortunately, they decide to do so by taking her to a casino the nephew frequents— and she turns out to really, really enjoy it...
- In Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, George McIntyre racks up huge debts to the Ganymede Mafia owing to his addiction to betting on illegal giant snail fights.
- The Crossing: A celebrity plastic surgeon has been forbidden access to his money due to a severe gambling problem. This forces him to do stuff like hand over valuable watches to the people who are blackmailing him. The handover of the watch then leads to five murders.
- Viola Constant in Lockhart And Teague.
- All in the Family: In the 1974 episode "Archie the Gambler," Edith reveals that in his younger days, Archie was a hardcore gambler, his habit nearly costing them everything; he had already gambled away his car, and was this close to gambling away their house. In the latter instance, Edith puts her foot down and gives him an ultimatum: Stop gambling now, or I leave and I'm taking our daughter (Gloria, who was only 3 at the time) with me. Archie shapes up ... or — as evidence strongly shows in this episode — did he just get better at concealing his gambling?
- In Archie Bunker's Place, there was an episode called "Barney the Gambler," where Barney is now the hopeless addict, and it is up to Archie — who does manage to quit gambling for good in the former episode (in fact, several referbacks are made to "Archie the Gambler") — and Murray to come to Barney's rescue when bookies want to beat Barney to within an inch of his life when he doesn't have the money.
- David Scatino from Season 2 of The Sopranos.
- Booth from Bones. Although, to be fair, he DID mostly kick the habit after meeting Bones.
- Switek from Miami Vice develops a gambling problem after Zito is killed by a Oswaldo Guzman in the third season. The problem compunds as the show goes on and never goes away. It actually manages to get worse when he sells Crockett and Tubbs out in the Series Finale.
- Kevin from The Office (US).
- In an episode of Black Books Bernard Black is introduced to horseracing by Manny, promptly develops a full-blown gambling addiction and loses £20,000 in a poker game. Fortunately Fran turns out to be a bit of a Card Sharp and manages to win it back.
- Barney in How I Met Your Mother is repeatedly portrayed as a gambling addict, whether it's playing a Chinese game at a casino, betting on sporting events, or just accepting any challenge that comes his way. On one occasion, he actually commented how a certain activity (namely, seducing a woman while wearing overalls) was impossible. He then immediately said, "Challenge accepted!"
Marshall: I bet you fifty bucks that you can't finish the marathon.
Barney: Well gee grandpa — with that money I can by a Ice cream cone! I bet you ten thousand dollars!
Marshall: You have a gambling problem, you bet me fifty dollars.
Barney: Fine, then no bet— Okay, deal.
- Dave Charnley from Drop the Dead Donkey.
- Warrick from CSI. In one episode, a rookie dies on his watch because he leaves the scene to place a bet.
- ...and by 'one episode', we really mean the friggin' pilot!
- Joe Tranelli in Men of a Certain Age. Many episodes focus on the consequences of his gambling addiction, for good or ill.
- Alan Townsend in Reaper. He can't stop himself from gambling even when he knows that it would void his deal with the Devil and send him straight to Hell.
- The victim of the Cold Case episode "The River". He got so heavily addicted to gambling on card games that he became financially ruined in spite of working as a rather well-paid surgeon.
- One episode of The Golden Girls has Dorothy being this, upsetting Sophia. According to Sophia, Dorothy had been this once before, which got her deep in debt. And she wasn't the only one. From Sophia's account, Salvador, Sophia's late husband, "was a gambler right up to his dying days."
- Toby from Switched at Birth is a teenaged version.
- Pearl Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000 has a weakness for gambling, particularly slot machines. It even comes into play in one episode when Mike challenges her to a Shell Game and ends up winning his choice of the movie that he and the 'bots will watch. He picks Hamlet, but ends up getting more than he expected.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Fever" featuring a man who abhors gambling travels to Las Vegas with his wife (who won a contest) and is forced by a drunk to put a dollar token into a slot machine, and winds up winning some money. Despite his efforts to run away from the slots, he hears the slot machine literally calling his name, and winds up addicted to the point where he thinks it's alive, and he might be right.
- Gerry in Luck. He's a whiz at horseracing, but a terrible poker player, blowing all of his track winnings on cards.
- Max Holden on One Life to Live, who within a few short months, went from a blissful newlywed to someone who nearly destroyed his business, his friendship with his partner, and his marriage with his rapidly developed addiction.
- Detective Ed Green on Law & Order liked to play poker in Atlantic City for some pretty high stakes (one game had him start "up a Cadillac" and end "down a Rolex - a stainless steel Rolex"), though this seemed to fade as the show progressed. After he finds out about his ex-partner's death, he starts hitting the New York City illegal gambling circuit. It almost costs him his badge when he gets mixed up in a shooting involving some of the gamblers he fell in with.
- One of the UnSubs on Criminal Minds was a hopeless gambler who kills a Loan Shark and subsequently has great luck in the casino. When his lucky streak ends he kills another person and his luck seemingly returns. This convinces him that he has a super power that makes him lucky if he kills someone he knows.
- Nate Westen from Burn Notice was characterized this way early on. He was in a good deal of debt, and couldn't be trusted with money because he would just gamble it away. He once gambled away his brother's rental car. In later seasons he seems to have gotten his act together once he gets married and has a son. However, after Nate is killed his mother discovers that Nate owes a lot of money to some very bad people.
- On Suits one of Harvey's clients is a gambling and alcohol addict who went Off the Wagon in an Atlantic City casino. The man lost 3 million dollars on a single hand of poker. A horrified Harvey then finds out that the gambler obtained the chips by using his 34 million dollar company as collateral for a loan. The man wanted to gamble so badly that he could not even wait to have money transferred to him from his bank and made a ludicrous deal with a total stranger.
- Lloyd in Breakout Kings. His gambling seems to have played a major part in how he ended up in prison in the first place, and causes him a lot of problems while he is inside.
- Albert Stroller in Hustle. Albert's gambling habit has landed the crew in more than one scrape, and is implied to be a major reason why he has never retired from grifting.
- My Name Is Earl:
- Earl is asked to help Kenny become more Rated M for Manly following a breakup. One of the things they do is gambling, and Kenny develops an addiction and loses all his possessions. Earl is not much better, either; he too becomes addicted, and his compulsive gambling indirectly causes his friend Catalina to be deported. Kenny eventually seeks treatment at a support group. Earl doesn't, but he really hasn't gambled since.
- There's also Earl's ex-mother-in-law, Connie. Earl had (with help from Randy) won a brand new Dodge Neon to give to Joy (to make up for all the thoughtless, crappy Christmas gifts he gave her when they were married), and Connie drove the car to the local Indian Casino and lost it. She also gambled away her husband's business, after getting him to sign it over to her, and gambled away their savings (her husband thought she was using the money to pay for dialysis.)
- On The Almighty Johnsons Mike is an interesting variation. As the incarnation of the Norse god of the hunt, he cannot lose at games. However, if he uses his powers to gamble, he is quickly unable to stop and keeps on winning and winning. This obviously makes the people he plays against extremely suspicious. After one night of this he is banned for life from the local casino and has to find underground gambling establishments to play in. The people playing in those types of places are just as unhappy about his winning streak and much more likely to employ violence. It does not help matters that when Mike is winning he becomes extremely arrogant and seems to subconsciously pick fights with dangerous people like bikers and ex-convicts.
- Oscar Madison of The Odd Couple. He's perennially broke due to all the money he loses, so he repeatedly borrows and, on rare occasions, outright steals large sums from his friend Felix.
- Toby Curtis from Scorpion. His skill as a behaviorist helps him in reading the other players, but he can never quit while he's ahead.
- Nell's grandfather in Dickensian, as in The Old Curiosity Shop, although the moneylender he's in hock to is Jacob Marley.
- Inspector George Gently: The wife of the Victim of the Week in "Gently Among Thieves". Deeply in dept to Loan Sharks, they come to an 'arrangement' with her that essentially amounts to prostitution.
- In Stan Lee's Lucky Man, the title character Harry is a compulsive gambler whose addiction has destroyed his marriage and left him millions of pounds in debt to a Triad casino owner. The plot kicks off when a woman gives him a Tang Dynasty bracelet that grants supernatural luck. Among the roller coaster of events that unfolds, it helps Harry kick his addiction, because it's not gambling if you always win.
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Oldest son Matthew becomes this after a few lucky games of poker. His reason is actually legitimate—he wants/needs money to provide for himself and his fiancee.
- Kenny Rogers' signature song "The Gambler" details the train-rider narrator having a conversation with a man of this sort.
- The classic song "House of the Rising Sun" has the male singer relating his depressing life and his slide into gambling addiction and habit of picking up prostitutes at the eponymous house of ill repute in New Orleans.
- Motörhead's "Ace of Spades", which practically became their Signature Song.
You know I'm born to lose and gambling's for fools.But that's the way I like it baby,I don't wanna live forever!And don't forget the joker!
- The Alan Parsons Project made Turn of a Friendly Card, essentially an entire album loosely based on this trope.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of the Sky is host to an Octillery explorer who - once the café opens early in the game - will subsequently spend all her time there continuously trying to win that Big Prize Draw run by Wynaut and failing. She knows she shouldn't continue, but does so anyway!
- In Dragon Quest IV, Maya's gambling addiction leads her to spend all of her sister Meena's fortune-telling profits at Endor's casino, leaving them stranded in the city until The Hero arrives to recruit them for his quest.
- Makalov, from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and its sequel. Both he and his sister Marcia lost their jobs in the Begnion Army because of his gambling (and the huge debts he got into).
- In The Sims 3, you can make a character this by having them have a blackjack table or slot machine which they constantly play (or to take it Up to Eleven, put the Lucky Simoleon casino in your town/have your town be Lucky Palms and have your sim hang out there all the time) and/or by buying Lotto Tickets at the grocery store post University Life expansion.
- Implied in Fallout: New Vegas. At the old Mormon fort the Follower of the Apocalypse use as an outpost to provide relief to Freeside, quite a few gamblers can be found receiving treatment.
- Vault 21 was a Vault composed entirely of gamblers who settled everything through games of chances. As far as Vaults went, they actually managed to sustain their way of life for a long time until the day they encountered Robert House, who won the rights to their Vault in a game of Blackjack and converted it into a casino.
- Shows up as a negative quirk in Darkest Dungeon. Characters who develop a gambling addiction can only reduce Stress by gambling.
- The Simpsons: Marge Simpson becomes addicted to slot machines when a casino's built in Springfield, and shows this trait occasionally in subsequent episodes.
- In "Lisa the Greek", Lisa had a nightmare that she might end up becoming one after learning Homer only used her to help him gamble.
- In the South Park episode "Red Man's Greed", Gerald Broflovski loses $37,000 at a Native American Casino, underwritten by the family's house. Later, when the Native Americans threaten to take over South Park, the townsfolk pool their resources and bet it on a single roulette number in a last-ditch effort to save the town. They win, giving them the money they need and a bit extra on top, but Gerald convinces them to let it all ride on another spin, and they lose everything. Stan calls the townsfolk out on this, but Randy just tells him to drop it.
- In The Flintstones, Fred Flintstone had a severe gambling problem, to the point where simply mentioning the word "bet" in his presence caused him to get a crazy look in his eyes and start repeating the word over and over.
- The Looney Tunes cartoon "Early to Bet" has a literal gambling bug whose bites causes gambling addiction.
Narrator: Remember folks, the gambling bug will get you if you don't watch out.
Gambling Bug: (mockingly) "Remember folks, the gambling bug will get you if you don't watch out." And I will too.
- An earlier Warner Bros. cartoon, 1938's "Now That Summer Is Gone" has a young squirrel who cannot stop gambling, in spite of his father's orders to stop.
- Soccer-themed cartoon Hurricanes has Jackson Black, a casino owner who would take any bet. Stavros Garkos won Black's ecosphere and his soccer-themed resort in a rigged roulette game. Because Garkos had to agree to offer Black a chance to win back whatever he lost, Black decided to bet the Hurricanes would win the upcoming Hurricanes versus Gorgons soccer game. The Hurricanes won. Hurricanes coach Jock Stone considers Black as someone with more money than common sense.
- In The Ren & Stimpy Show episode "My Shiny Friend", Stimpy has an addiction to watching television. At the end of the short, he appears to have reformed, but it turns out he switched to...gambling.
- Goofy becomes this in the Disney cartoon "Get Rich Quick". Here, Goofy plays the role of George Geef, who enjoyed spending his hard earned dough on a chance to make an easy buck, only to get reprimanded by his wife (or worse, have her take his winnings to pay the bills).
- In a Compressed Vice example, Sir Roderick becomes one in an episode of Gawayn, even gambling away his squire.
- In American Dragon: Jake Long, this is Fu Dog's biggest vice. In the first episode alone he bets on how well Jake does against his arch enemies!