“Part of the $10 million I spent on gambling, part on booze and part on women.
The rest I spent foolishly.”
– George Raft
Established rock acts today often appear at casinos, where musicians like Elton John, Kiss and Guns N’ Roses have played residencies. So enjoy our Top 11 Gambling Songs – but please, for your sake, play responsibly.
- Poker Face by Lady Gaga
Written by Lady Gaga and producer RedOne, 2009’s Poker Face became one of the biggest-selling singles of all time. Poker Face was the follow-up to Just Dance from Gaga’s debut album The Fame. Poker Face uses gambling metaphors for, what else, sex. “You know this song is actually about when I was making love to this guy that I was dating a long time ago,” Gaga told a London audience.
“I was thinking about chicks every time we had sex. And I just didn’t want him to figure it out because I felt so bad,” she added. “But I don’t anymore because I wrote a song about it.”
Its synthpop sound and infectious hook helped make Poker Face a hit. “Songs like Just Dance and Poker Face got resistance from radio at first because they were so different,” RedOne told Guitar Center. “But once they got an opening and radio stations started playing those songs everybody wanted that sound. It’s an incredible feeling. Big DJs who are now producers have thanked me for opening the door for them because that style of music isn’t just for remixes anymore.”
Poker Face by Lady Gaga
- Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley
Nothing represents the mecca of gambling like Viva Las Vegas, the title song of the 1964 Elvis Presley film. MGM called the silly flick “a jumpin’ jackpot of melody” that was “the swingin’est, singin’est, grooviest, lovin’est, entertainment sensation it has ever been your luck to enjoy!”
Presley, who played race car driver Lucky Jackson, falls for Ann-Margret in the vapid story. In her autobiography Ann-Margret, the actress reveals that things heated up off-screen too. “From day one, when we gathered around the piano to run through the film’s songs, Elvis and I knew that it was going to be serious. That day, we discovered two things about each other. Once the music started, neither of us could stand still. Music ignited a fiery pent-up passion inside Elvis and inside me.”
The film also began the long relationship between Presley and guitarist James Burton, who overdubbed parts for the film’s soundtrack. “I had a call from a good friend of mine, Tommy Tedesco, a guitarist,” Burton told Elvis Unlimited. “Tommy and I were talking and he said: ‘I’d like for you to do this guitar work.’ Tommy was a great player and a great person, but he enjoyed playing mostly rhythm guitar rather than lead work. Then I had a phone call from a contractor to confirm the date, so I went over to MGM and played on the soundtrack. It was great. Ann-Margret was a great dancer. You know, when you’re playing, you just watch the screen. She made some great moves, so we just really went for it!”
Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley
- Up on Cripple Creek by The Band
Up on Cripple Creek tells the tale of a trucker who takes a break to visit his girlfriend Bessie, “a drunkard’s dream,” and win at the racetrack. Written by Robbie Robertson, the Band‘s 1969 single reached No. 25.
“We’re not dealing with people at the top of the ladder, we’re saying what about that house out there in the middle of that field?” Robertson said in Across the Great Divide: The Band and America. “What does this guy think, with that one light on upstairs, and that truck parked out there? That’s who I’m curious about. What is going on in there? And just following the story of this person, and he just drives these trucks across the whole country, and he knows these characters that he drops in on, on his travels. Just following him with a camera is really what this song’s all about.”
The song gets its iconic sound from a Jew’s harp played by Garth Hudson. “Yeah, that’s the hook on Cripple Creek,” singer Levon Helm told Gibson. “Garth was great at coming up with those. He’s great with chords, too. That’s why The Band sounds like The Band, and not like a lot of other groups – because of Garth’s understanding of chord progressions.”
Up on Cripple Creek by The Band
- When You’re Hot, You’re Hot by Jerry Reed
Described as “country rap,” When You’re Hot, You’re Hot was a 1971 crossover hit for Jerry Reed on the country and pop charts. Reed is best known as Burt Reynolds’ sidekick in the film Smokey and the Bandit.
In the novelty song, Reed says, “Me and Homer Jones and Big John Talley / Had a big crap game goin’ back in the alley / And I kept rollin’ them sevens, winnin’ all them pots.” Reed told a Toledo, Ohio audience in 1983 that the song came to him while working on TV’s Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.
“I was doing the Campbell show and I was kind of nervous. I screwed up a song one night and I left out the title. And in place of the title, I said, ‘When you’re hot, you’re hot.’ Well, the crowd reacted to that, see, so I went home and wrote this song.”
When You’re Hot, You’re Hot by Jerry Reed
- Tumbling Dice by the Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones moved to France in 1971 to avoid the U.K.’s onerous income tax. Their tax status inspired the title of Exile on Main St., an album recorded in the basement of the chateau Villa Nellcote. Tumbling Dice was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was the first single released from the LP, a No. 7 hit in 1972.
“Tumbling Dice may have had something to do with the gambling den that Bellcote turned into – there were card games and roulette wheels,” Richards recalled in his autobiography Life. “We did play dice. I credit Mick with Tumbling Dice, but the song had to make the transition from its earlier form, which was a song called Good Time Women. You might have all of the music, a great riff, but sometimes the subject matter is missing. It only takes one guy sitting around a room, saying, ‘throwing craps last night …’ for a song to be born.”
“It’s weird where your lyric things come from,” Jagger explained in the liner notes of Jump Back: The Best of the Rolling Stones ’71-’93. “On Tumbling Dice, I sat down with the housekeeper and talked to her about gambling. She liked to play dice and I really didn’t know much about it, but I got it off her and managed to make the song out of that.”
Tumbling Dice by the Rolling Stones
- Queen of Hearts by Juice Newton
Written by pedal steel guitarist Hank DeVito, Queen of Hearts was first recorded by Dave Edmunds in 1979. Though it was a big hit in the U.K., Swan Song Records refused to release the cut in the States.
Enter Juice Newton, whose 1981 version was a crossover pop-country hit. “I knew that song was going to be a hit,” Newton said in Pop Culture Classics. “That came to me unsolicited. It was mailed to me, literally, in a plain, brown wrapper, from the publisher, came directly to my house.”
When Newton performed the song in concert, reaction was strong from audiences unfamiliar with the Edmunds version. “I started doing the song live and I did it live for about a year before I recorded it,” Newton told The Review. “Then I brought it to [producer] Richard Landis when we started the Juice album. He wasn’t convinced at that point that it was a breakout song but I told him I think it this is a real cool song … so we cut it.”
Queen of Hearts by Juice Newton
Queen of Hearts by Dave Edmunds
- Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price
Stagger Lee was a No. 1 hit in 1959 for Lloyd Price despite – or perhaps because of – its lurid story of a dice game dispute that ended in murder. The legend of “Stagger Lee” Shelton and Billy Lyons goes back to the late 19th century. Mississippi John Hurt recorded an early version in 1928.
Growing up in Louisiana, Price had heard his father and uncles sing the song. During a stretch in the military, Price added an intro: “The night was clear / And the moon was yellow / And the leaves came tumbling down.” At the end of his hitch Price recorded Stagger Lee for ABC Records as the B-side to You Need Love, which went nowhere.
“We tried to make You Need Love go for about a month and a half,” Price told DJ Matt the Cat. “A guy from Seattle, Wash., a DJ called up and said, ‘You’re on the wrong side.’ I will never forget, it was snowing that day. Larry Newton, the vice-president and sales manager called me and said, ‘We’re on the wrong side and we gotta turn the record over.’ I said, ‘No, no, You Need Love is the greatest song, you can’t turn it over, just stay with it.’
“So he called me back, I said, ‘OK, turn it over.’ That afternoon they had 200,000 orders for Stagger Lee. Unbelievable.”
Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price
- Do It Again by Steely Dan
When Steely Dan – keyboardist Donald Fagen and guitarist Walter Becker – recorded Do It Again for their 1972 debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill, they didn’t intend the almost six-minute track to be a single. When radio stations requested an edited version, a shortened single was released. The iconic solo that opens the song is played on an electric sitar by sideman Denny Dias.
Like many of Becker and Fagen’s lyrics, Do It Again is often misunderstood: “Now you swear and kick and beg us / That you’re not a gamblin’ man / Then you find you’re back in Vegas / With a handle in your hand / Your black cards can make you money / So you hide them when you’re able / In the land of milk and honey / You must put them on the table, yeah.”
“When Do It Again was a hit, people didn’t even know what the words to the song were, but they knew the song, they knew they liked it, and they knew the mood of the thing,” Becker told New Times. “And later on I guess some of them found out what the actual words were. And I think the ironic relationship of words to music and so on, you have to figure that some people are going to be more in on the joke than others, or that the complementary nature of the sounds is going to be more important than the paradox between the lyrics and the sounds.”
Do It Again by Steely Dan
- Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man by the Bob Seger System
Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man was the first song to bring national attention to Bob Seger. Released in December 1968, the song reached No. 17, the highest Seger would chart until 1976’s Night Moves. The lyrics describe how Seger “learned to spin fortune wheels and throw dice.”
The song featured a young Glenn Frey years before he moved to Los Angeles and founded the Eagles. Frey, who died in 2016, credited fellow Michigan native Seger with much of his success. “He is probably the most important individual in my musical career. When I was 19 and Bob was 21 he took me under his wing,” Frey said in a 1992 interview. “I met Seger and he let me come to his recording sessions. He brought me to the Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man recording session and let me play acoustic guitar and sing back up on the song in 1968.
“You can really hear Glenn blurt out on the first chorus,” Seger said in the documentary History of the Eagles. “He comes out really loud. Tremendous gusto.”
Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man by the Bob Seger System
- The Gambler by Kenny Rogers
Nashville songwriter Don Schlitz wrote The Gambler in 1976. Schlitz, Johnny Cash and others recorded the song with little success until Kenny Rogers made it a pop and country crossover hit in 1979. “Ironically neither Don Schlitz nor myself are gamblers,” Rogers told NPR. “I learned a long time ago that I can’t win enough money to excite me, but I can lose enough to depress me. So I don’t gamble and Don doesn’t gamble either.”
“While it’s written specifically about gambling, there’s much more to that song than about gambling,” Rogers reflected in a promotional clip for All In: The Poker Movie. “It’s really more of a philosophy of life, how to live your life. I think that’s what people like about it.”
Rogers used its famous lyric, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” in a 2014 Geico ad. “We did about eight or nine different versions of the commercial and toward the end the director said, ‘Why don’t you just sing with no instrumentation?” Rogers told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “And he just started laughing so hard, we did it very quickly.”
The Gambler by Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers’ Geico commercial
- Ace of Spades by Motorhead
Ace of Spades is the signature song of Motorhead, the heavy metal band founded by bassist and singer “Lemmy” Kilmister. The 1980 single was co-written by Lemmy, who died in 2015. Lemmy said he was inspired by the slot machines he’d played in London pubs. “I used gambling metaphors, mostly cards and dice,” Lemmy wrote in his autobiography White Line Fever.
“When it comes to that sort of thing, I’m more into the one-arm bandits actually, but you can’t really sing about spinning fruit, and the wheels coming down. Most of the song’s just poker, really: ‘I know you’ve got to see me read ’em and weep,’ ‘Dead man’s hand again, aces and eights’ – that was Wild Bill Hickok’s hand when he got shot. To be honest, although Ace of Spades is a good song, I’m sick to death of it now.”
Ace of Spades by Motorhead