List of 30+ Common Gambling Idioms in English

Common Gambling idioms you should know in English with meaning and examples.

List of 30+ useful Gambling idioms in English.

(Come) Down to the Wire

  • Meaning: (Be uncertain) all the way to the last minute
  • Example: This project is coming down to the wire – I think we can finish, but I’m not sure.

Note: This comes from racing, in which a winning racer (horse or human) breaks a small wire at the end.

(Having an) Ace Up One’s Sleeve

  • Meaning: To have a secret strength or surprise plan
  • Example: The coach has an ace up his sleeve – he has a new forward rested and totally ready to go.

Note: “Card up one’s sleeve” is also used.

(The) Die Is Cast

  • Meaning: The decision has been made; there is no going back.
  • Example: If the invasion begins, the die is cast: there will be war.

Note: This is said to have first been used (in Latin) by Julius Caesar.

(To) Play One’s Ace

  • Meaning: To deploy one’s strongest asset
  • Example: It’s time to play our ace and put our strongest player back on the field.

Note: This is rather rare. “Play one’s ace card” is also used.

According To Hoyle

  • Meaning: Properly, in accordance with established procedures
  • Example: Barbara always tries to take shortcuts, but I like to do everything according to Hoyle.

Note: Rather old-fashoined. Hoyle was the author of a book of rules of card games.

Ace In The Hole

  • Meaning: A hidden advantage
  • Example: The new engine design is our ace in the hole – but we have to keep it secret from our competitors.

Note: Also “an ace up one’s sleeve.” From the game of poker.

All Bets Are Off

  • Meaning: What seemed certain is now unclear
  • Example: If interest rates rise, all bets are off when it comes to our travel company investments.

All The Marbles

  • Meaning: The entire prize or reward
  • Example: The tennis match came down to a single tie-breaker for all the marbles.

Behind the Eight (or 8) Ball

  • Meaning: At a serious disadvantage
  • Example: After losing our star goalie, our team was behind the 8-ball.

Note: This is often used in the context of sports-”not only billiards, which is its origin.

Bet the Farm

  • Meaning: Risk everything; spend all one’s money on something in hopes of success
  • Example: I bet the farm on that investment, and it failed. Now I’m completely broke.

Note: “Bet the house” is a rarer alternative.

Break the Bank

  • Meaning: Exhaust one’s financial resources
  • Example: Let’s take our daughter out to dinner. One restaurant meal won’t break the bank.

Note: This is generally used in the negative, as in the example.

Busted Flush

  • Meaning: A failure, someone or something that seemed promising but did not develop well
  • Example: It’s true that our new striker hasn’t done well this year, but it’s too soon to call him a busted flush.

Call a Spade a Spade

  • Meaning: To speak frankly and directly about a problem
  • Example: Let’s call a spade a spade: Mary wasn’t “borrowing” company funds; she was stealing.

Cash In One’s Chips

  • Meaning: 1. To take advantage of a quick profit/ 2. To die
  • Example: It’s better if we cash in our chips now – there are too many dangers if we try to reinvest the profits we’ve made.

Have a Lot Riding On (Something)

  • Meaning: Be depending on the successful outcome or development of something
  • Example: After problems with their emissions systems damaged sales, Volkswagen has a lot riding on their new products.

Have an Ace Up One’s Sleeve

  • Meaning: To have a hidden advantage
  • Example: Right now it seems as though Susan will get the job, but that could change. Maria has an ace up her sleeve – she’s friends with the boss’s wife, but nobody knows it.

Have Hand of Aces/Hold All the Aces

  • Meaning: To be in a very strong position in a competition
  • Example: Right now Don has a hand of aces as he tries to get a new job – he’s smart, he’s young, and he has a long record of accomplishments already.

Useful Gambling idioms in English

Gambling idioms

Hit the Jackpot

  • Meaning: Do something that brings great success
  • Example: I really hit the jackpot when I invested in Brazilian energy stocks.

In the Cards

  • Meaning: Likely; likely to occur
  • Example: I don’t think a recession is in the cards this year. Consumer confidence is very strong.

Play the Percentages

  • Meaning: Bet on or rely on what is most likely to happen
  • Example: In this case it’s best to play the percentages rather than making an unorthodox choice.

Play the Ponies

  • Meaning: Bet on horse racing.
  • Example: Joe used to have it all-nice house, good job, great family. He lost it all because he couldn’t stop playing the ponies.

Play Your Cards Right

  • Meaning: Exploit a situation to your best advantage
  • Example: If you play your cards right, you can make enough money to retire in five years.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

  • Meaning: Back up your opinions with a financial commitment
  • Example: If Larry thinks we should try to move into the Canadian market, it’s time for him to put his money where his mouth is and commit resources from his department to making it happen.

Roll the Dice On

  • Meaning: Take a risk
  • Example: I’m going to roll the dice on the plant renovation. If the market collapses we’ll be in trouble, but I think it’s needed.

Run the Table

  • Meaning: Win every game or contest
  • Example: Even if we run the table, the best we can do is a tie for the conference championship.

Note: The origin is in the game of billiards, where to run the table is to sink every ball. This is still used most often in sports contexts.

Shell Game

  • Meaning: A method of deception in which you conceal your actions by moving something frequently
  • Example: Overseas tax shelters amount to a kind of shell game in which investors move their assets in order to avoid the tax authorities.

Note: This comes from a gambling scam in which a shell is hidden under cups that are rapidly moved around.

Show Your Cards

  • Meaning: Reveal your resources or plans
  • Example: Don’t show your cards too early in the negotiations. Keep them guessing as long as you can.

Sweeten the Pot

  • Meaning: Increase the amount of winnings potentially available in a game of chance, especially poker
  • Example: I know you want to go home, but if we sweeten the pot will you continue playing?

The Deck Is (The Cards Are) Stacked Against You

  • Meaning: Unfavorable conditions exist.
  • Example: We’ll try to get to Syracuse by 3, but the deck is stacked against us – it’s raining, and there’s construction on the road.

The Only Game in Town

  • Meaning: The sole option for a particular service.
  • Example: I don’t like that hairstylist, but what can I do? She’s the only game in town.

Throw the Game

  • Meaning: Intentionally lose a contest, usually in collusion with gamblers
  • Example: After the champion boxed very poorly, there were rumors that he had thrown the game.

Tip One’s Hand

  • Meaning: Reveal one’s advantages; reveal useful information that one possesses
  • Example: We want the contract. Be open in the negotiations, but don’t tip your hand too soon.

Up the Ante

  • Meaning: Raise the stakes; increase the importance of something under discussion
  • Example: The EU upped the ante in the trade war by retaliating against Russian restrictions.

When the Chips Are Down

  • Meaning: When a situation becomes urgent or difficult
  • Example: Jerry often seems lazy, but when the chips are down you can depend on him to help.

Note: This expression comes from poker, where “chips” are used as tokens.

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