You are at home with friends. Everyone in the room has exhausted all possible Netflix options, and besides, you feel like doing something more interactive anyway.
Game nights are becoming increasingly popular, even hip, and you want to give it a try.
You pull out some dice, a few decks of cards and decide to “up” the excitement of your at-home event by turning old favorites into simple gambling games.
Everyone knows that a wager makes any pursuit more interesting.
Think about the high-pitched excitement at the Kentucky Derby, when millions of dollars are wagered on a race that lasts only seconds. You can watch horses run in a field any time; it is the wager that matters.
I’m going to show you the best and easiest ways to set up fun betting games with friends.
Some of these games your friends will already know the rules to. Others are games that are relatively easy to pick up.
Although complex, neon-lit, high-stakes casinos are what we typically associate with gambling, there are easy gambling games at home that can equal the excitement of a trip to Vegas. (Well, almost, at any rate!)
Remember, though, you don’t have to wager cash; you can play betting games for fun, for “dares,” for Jell-O shots, or even for minor work tasks if you are playing these betting games at home with your colleagues.
This card game really should be more straightforward than it is, but rarely will you find people focusing so intently on their cards, on the game, on the dealer’s hand.
They have read a book or an article on a winning strategy. They cannot wait to double down. Faces become tense, the air crackles with electricity and, occasionally, with curses.
There are dozens of card games you can gamble on, and blackjack or “21” is just one of them. This game has never waned in popularity, probably because the play progresses quickly, and it is easy (for most people) to count to 21.
Dominoes are around 800 years old, originally come from China, and were dispersed through the western world via Italy.
Many American homes have a set tucked back behind the old National Geographics, in that dusty cupboard filled with all the things your big brother left behind when he moved out (and before you moved back in).
The standard dominoes game is easy enough for a child to play but complex enough to keep old men in the park riveted for hours. (Or maybe their wives kicked them out of the house? Either way, the old men are happy.)
How do you make a game that is traditionally played by only two players work for a roomful of people? Simple. Select two players, and have the others choose sides, take bets, and trash talk. It’s a good time, had by all!
Betting on Sports
Okay, this is a no-brainer. Everyone knows you can fly to Vegas and put money down at a sportsbook, and many people are now aware that you can access global sportsbooks from home, given recent changes in U.S. legislation.
But you can also create a sportsbook in your home, just by hosting friends to watch a game at your house. List the odds on a chalkboard, create a few themed cocktails, and offer a prize for the most creative side bet.
Football, hockey, tennis, and baseball lend themselves easily to game win wagers, as well as side bets on the quarterback throwing completions or interceptions, fights on the ice, successful versus unsuccessful match points, and walk-offs.
If you are a cricket fan, you can bet on fours, sixers, half-centuries, and centuries, as well as wickets, taken and how many times the “third umpire” is requested. If you are a super fan, you can place prop bets on how long it will take until the next LBW, or “leg before wicket,” is called.
You may think you know how a game is going to go, but sports always present us with surprises.
The odds-on favorite does not always win, and the fastest quarter horse can come up lame. That is why we keep coming back to sports (and have done since the first two hunters raced each other to the wooly mammoth); the excitement lies completely in the unpredictability.
Got a People Magazine, a Tatler, or an US lying around? Pour your friends a shot apiece, ask questions from the magazine to see who’s up on the latest and greatest gossip, and the first person to yell out the correct answer is the only one who doesn’t have to take a shot.
In place of shots, you can have your friends “buy-in” to the game at $1 per question, with the winner takes all upon the completion of each question.
Like the lottery, this game encourages participation because each player becomes convinced he’ll ace the next question.
This is a great way to get back at any non-gossipy friends who tease you about your need for the latest juicy celeb sightings. Besides, they secretly want to know what’s happening in Hollywood and beyond anyway.
This is a game that I’ve seen played on sidewalks, behind stores when workers are on a break, and at Friday night house parties, where bets change hands quickly, and the play is serious. I’m surprised it isn’t something that is more popular, considering most people have dice at home.
For Liar’s Dice, you do need a significant number of dice. You may have to raid all of your Monopoly and other board games around the house. Or, if you have thought of it beforehand, ask your buddies to bring some along.
Liar’s Dice is like poker in that you know your hand, you don’t know the hands of others, and you have to make your bets based on what you think they may or may not have in terms of “hands.” The hands that a player can have include three of a kind, five in a row, etc.
As with poker, you bet on the strength of your hand compared to what you think your friends may hold. The word “liar” refers to the need to bluff, keep a poker face, and generally lie about your true hand.
You know those questions they ask at Pub Nights that you swear you got right but always end up stumping you? Most of those questions are online. Just search for “pub quiz animals,” or “pub quiz sports,” or just go with “pub quiz general questions.”
If you are hosting a group of people who have not all been friends for a while, it’s a great way to get them introduced, interactive, and comfortable with each other.
Also, it is just a great excuse to pretend that you are in a pub and keep the beers flowing. (Or is that just me?)
To bet on a pub quiz, you can ask players to ante in for each game, i.e., a set of 10 questions. You can offer a winner take all kitty, or divide the pot between the top three finishers, depending on how many friends you are hosting.
Jenga for Cash
Everyone knows Jenga. It’s the game that requires you to pull a wooden block out of a tall, heavy tower, one at a time, taking turns with your opponent in an effort to avoid collapsing the structure. No one outgrows this game, and even introverts shriek when the tower wobbles dangerously.
You can wager on the ultimate outcome and place side bets as well on how many blocks can be pulled before the final collapse. This game draws in the non-players as they watch in breathless anticipation to see if the swaying tower will hold or fail.
This is one of the first games to set out—if you have a Jenga set available to you—as you start your evening of playing fun betting games with friends. It’s tactile, doesn’t require poker skills, gets everyone boisterous early, and it’s a good time. The wagers just make it an even better time.
It is also (for different reasons) a great game to end the night with, especially if the players have been imbibing cocktails and/or shots and/or beer all evening, are seeing double, and are as wobbly as the wooden tower itself.
End-of-the-night Jenga might be more fun for the spectators than the players. (Everyone loves a fool…as long as it is someone else.)
Do not laugh. Tiddlywinks has an international organization, tournaments, and Cambridge University even has a team that defends Prince Philip’s honor via this game. It is also a very easy game to place a wager upon.
If you have a couple of coins lying around (pennies are the ideal size), then you can play. Draw a series of concentric circles on a piece of paper, and label each one with a point score, the least points for the larger, outer circle, and the most points for the “bullseye,” inner circle.
The paper will look like a skeeball target. The two players sit across from each other and use one coin to pop up a second coin that is lying flat. The first person to 30 points wins and takes the prize. For proper form, you can refer to this video.
A more interesting way to create simple betting games than the standard “winner takes the pot” format is to give each player five chances to pop his coins. Each player tallies his score, and he wins that amount from his opponent.
More than any other game on this list (except perhaps for Liar’s Dice), tiddlywinks is utterly addictive. Your evening at home with friends might evolve into a monthly tournament. Make it BYOB, share cocktail recipes, and establish a tradition.
It’s simple, it’s a classic, and it’s fun. If you have a deck of cards at home, great. If you have multiple decks, even better. If you have only ever played War between two players, you’ll enjoy it even more with three or four sitting at the game, each player with one or two decks.
The premise is simple: each player gets an equal part of a shuffled deck. Players do not look at their cards, merely holding their stack face down. At the same time, each participating player flips over his top card.
Whoever has the highest card takes everyone else’s card and adds it to the bottom of his own stack. Whoever ends up with the entire deck wins the game.
In the case of a tie, the players set down three cards face down and then turn up the fourth card.
Whichever is the player whose fourth card is higher wins all of the cards played in that hand, the three face-down cards of each player engaged in the tie-breaker, as well as the fourth cards that determined the winning and losing hands.
For instance, add a touch of roulette to the game by betting on whether the next high card will be black or red, a common number or a royal, an even number or odd.
Sometimes the simplest things are best, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like a game of War. In fact, Caesar’s Palace has a War table game on the casino floor, and you can bet hundreds (or more) on the turn of a single card.
A Word in Closing
Gambling tokens have been found in Paleolithic campsites. The first dice were made of animal bones and were found 5000 years ago in the near east.
Even the Dalai Lama reportedly uses a type of Tibetan gambling device called a “mo” to help with decision making.
Clearly, there is something about gambling, wagering, and winning that caught the imagination of man at the dawn of time and never let go.
Gambling games for fun, for profit, even for divination, are as old as man himself.
Of course, you are just here looking for gambling games to play with friends, but it doesn’t hurt to know that we are already wired to enjoy these games of skill, with a wager or two thrown in to increase the suspense.
Get a good mixed crowd of friends over—maybe add a couple of people you haven’t seen in a while to your standard crew, just to shift the energy a bit—then decide between wings and pizza or more exotic finger foods, and let the games begin!