The Role of Gambling in the Theatre
December 5, 2018
Did you think gambling was only a fixture of modern theatrical productions? It’s not true. Read on and see how gambling has been mentioned in some of the most memorable performances throughout numerous generations.
Gambling in Shakespeare Plays
Although many of William Shakespeare’s plays have tragedy as a prominent theme, that doesn’t mean his characters didn’t know how to have fun, too. In fact, Shakespeare brings up dozens of games and leisure activities in his works.
Dice games are particularly prevalent, as are card games. The former isn’t surprising since people often played dice games to pass the time during the Elizabethan era. There was also another gambling game Shakespeare mentioned called Fast and Loose. It involved a person carefully arranging a leather belt on a table so that there was one fold in the middle.
People would then take bets as one individual pierced that section of the belt. They made wagers about whether the attempt would make the belt attach to the table underneath. Although this kind of gambling is different from today’s slot games, the element of chance made it easy to understand why Fast and Loose was such a crowd-pleaser.
Many Theatres Were Once Called Casinos
Most people think of casinos as places where individuals go to try their luck. However, they weren’t always used for such specific purposes. During the Victorian era, casinos were referred to in a broader sense because they were places where people went to enjoy all kinds of social amusements.
Princeton University even had a venue called the Casino Theatre. It was a place where people gathered to watch plays, plus use the bowling alley or play tennis. Also, many old-fashioned movie houses — the places we’d think of as cinemas today — had the word “casino” in the name. So, when people said they were going to spend a night at the casino, they might have meant they were going to enjoy a night at the theatre that didn’t necessarily include gambling.
Interestingly, things have come full circle in modern times. That’s because some of today’s most famous casinos are places where people can do more than gamble. They have full-scale entertainment venues, areas where kids can play while their parents try their luck, and a full assortment of restaurants so that people never go hungry as they spend time at slot machines and card tables.
Gambling Comes to Broadway
Many people who plan trips to New York City realize their itineraries are not complete without scoring some tickets to a Broadway play. While there are many family-friendly options, there are also plenty of productions with more adult themes, including gambling.
One of the most famous Broadway productions is the 1950s hit “Guys and Dolls.” It was selected for the 1951 Pulitzer Prize in the Drama category, but the recognition was ultimately vetoed due to the respective committee’s decision not to award any prize in the category that year.
The play features gambling in its opening scenes, where three gamblers engage in a conversation about which horse will win an upcoming race. The gambling theme continues throughout the rest of the play, and many of the scenes occur in casino environments.
People also filled theatres to see the 1929 play called “Gambling.” Performed in four acts, it follows Al Draper, a New York City gambler, as he seeks to solve the murder of his adopted daughter.
There was a more recent Broadway musical called “Disaster!,” which featured a slot machine-loving character in its cast. This production played at the Nederlander Theatre, once the venue for the long-running musical “Rent.”
This brief tour of gambling’s history in the theatrical world proves it has long-standing prominence, a fact that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.