Ranking the Most Popular Gambling Idioms

Idioms are amusing phrases that we often hear and use daily. They are unique to countries, regions, and cultures, which makes idioms very difficult to understand if you've never heard them before. It often sounds like someone is speaking a different language altogether.

The world of gambling is no different. You'll hear 100s of Idioms being used through casino halls and sporting events.

Check out our top 10 most popular idioms from the world of gambling.

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Down to the Wire

The phrase first originated from racing events. It was common practice that the winner broke a wire as they passed over the finishing line.


This phrase means that the race is unpredictable or close.

When would it be used? 

An example of its use would be during a horse racing event when there are no clear leaders close to the finish line.

This race is down to the wire, who will win is anyone's bet.

Ace in The Hole

The term 'Ace in the hole' along with many other 'Ace' related idioms comes from the popular card game of poker. In this game, the Ace is an advantage card to have in your hand.


This term, when used concerning poker, means that the player has a hidden advantage over their competitors.

When would it be used?

During a poker tournament, you may hear the commentator say:

Things are looking promising for Daniel, he has an Ace in the hole.

All Bets Are Off

This is a common phrase that was coined by commentators and live bookmakers mostly heard at horse races. It was initially shouted to declare that no more bets are being taken, and current bets are now void.


A guaranteed win has now become uncertain - A sure bet is now off.

When would it be used?

In relation to horse racing, you will hear this term during a race when a promising horse that had high odds fails to perform like expected.

Today is not a good day for horses or jockey. All bets are off on this one.

Bet the Farm

Originating from the early 1900s where it was common for the average gambling man to put his assets on the line or use his farm to cover gambling debts.


To risk everything you have in hopes of success

When would it be used?

A modern alteration to this idiom you may hear is 'Don't bet the house.' You would hear either as a warning that you are staking more than your finances can handle.

I thought it was a good idea, I bet the farm, but now I'm flat broke.

Run the Table

Initially used in Billiards when a player took over the table and sank all the balls in succession.


To win every time

When would it be used?

It's used to indicate a winning streak. If it's said to you, then congratulations!

Watch it, he's running the table tonight!

In the Cards

A phrase taken from tarot readers who predict your future depending on the cards you're dealt.


It's predicted to happen.

When would it be used?

During a Blackjack or Poker game, for example, it may be said:

It's in the card for him tonight.

This is a positive thing, which means the cards are in the players' favour, and they're likely to be successful.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

This idiom is now widely used in daily life. It originates from gambling when players would have to up their stakes to compete, such as in poker.


To support your claims with a financial commitment.

When would it be used?

During a card game, this term could be used as smack talk to berate your competitor into wagering more money if they are talking a big game.

You think so, do you? Put your money where your mouth is then!

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Many believe this idiom came from casino halls in Las Vegas, where it was once possible to buy an entire chicken dinner for $2, the same price as a minimum bet.


It means that you have won and, therefore, can afford a chicken dinner.

When would it be used?

Commonly used by winning players and dealers to congratulate you on your win. It's a term used for joy and pride that you have just won.

Winner, winner chicken dinner! Let's go cash these chips in.

Tip your Hand

Another phrase originating from the card table.


To accidentally or tactfully reveal your advantages to your competition.

When would it be used?

In relation to playing a card game, one might accidentally show their hand when distracted. A player may tip their hand to the left or right so the players sitting next to them can see the cards. A player may also use it as a tactic.

He just tipped his hand, but was that a smart move this early on in the game?

Shell Game

The term 'Shell game' comes from a well-known gambling street scam where a shell would be hidden under a cup. The dealer would then move them fast so that you could not tell which was hiding the item. You'd then place bets as to which one it was under,


The phrase means to use methods of deception during play.

When would it be used?

Often you'll hear commentators at card tournaments or sports matches describe the game as a shell game.

The tactics there are using tonight are sneaky, what a shell game this has been.

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Closing Thoughts

Our collection of the most popular gambling idioms is just a 'drop in the water,' there are 100s more for you to have fun learning and using. Be sure to listen out for them next time you visit your local casino, watch sports, or attend a horse track.

Michelle Thomas
Former Author
Master of Business and Finance
Expert in:
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Reviewed by Head of Content:
Dmitry Rogalchuk

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