The Decline of the Use of Gambling Phrases and Metaphors in Song Lyrics

Lyrical inspiration for artists can come from a variety of different places, whether the inspiration is something personal, or a topic that resonates with a lot of people. Casino games such as blackjack have often inspired song lyrics, which has resulted in the use of gambling phrases. Gambling terms and phrases, such as “all in” and “caught bluffing” are examples that have been used as metaphors in song lyrics in the past. However, whilst these types of phrases were once very common, their usage within modern music has declined.

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Are Casino Games Still Popular in Other Media Formats?

An interesting point in regards to the decline of gambling inspired song lyrics is the fact that the gambling industry is growing in popularity. Online casinos have become more accessible and therefore gained a wider audience, with games such as online blackjack available to wide audiences through mobile devices. Online casino games such as blackjack and slots have many variations, some of which are inspired by different themes including music. Despite music evidently influencing some modern casino game variations, casino-inspired lyrics have not been prominent within modern music.

The growing popularity of casinos can be demonstrated through other forms of media however, with TV shows and films still regularly featuring casino games. The popularity of these games is showcased through their continued usage in TV and film, so what is the reason for the decline of casino game mentions and gambling metaphors through the medium of music?

Gambling Mentions and Metaphors in Music

Games such as blackjack and poker have been a source of inspiration for some of the most famous song lyrics. Kenny Rogers’ classic song The Gambler (1978) has become a household anthem in the poker world. Iconic lyrics from the song; “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em” have also become a commonly used metaphor, for knowing when to stick at something or walk away. The king himself, Elvis Presley, sang praises about the bright lights and entertainment of various casino games in Viva Las Vegas (1964), which has become one of the most famous gambling songs. And of course, Motorhead’s most iconic song the Ace of Spades (1980) was born out of Lemmy’s love of playing cards.

What stands out though, is that the majority of songs inspired by casino games were all released before the year 2000. Gambling phrases and metaphors haven’t been completely unheard of in pop music however, Lady Gaga’s number one hit Poker Face (2008), used the classic gambling phrase as a metaphor for hiding things in relationships. Katy Perry, in a more literal sense, sang about going out in the gambling capital in her song Waking up in Vegas (2008), using the phrase “cash out” as a metaphor for someone leaving.

So, why have gambling phrases and metaphors been less commonplace in modern music today? It could be due to the fact a lot of modern popular songs are beat-focused, rather than being explorative lyrically. It’s also possible that gambling inspired lyrics don’t resonate as much with modern musicians, despite the industry’s popularity growing amongst the general population. Despite this, gambling phrases and metaphors have still provided us with timeless songs, that will continue to resonate with people.