Never undermine a good cartoon. Animated sitcoms may give the impression of light-hearted comedy and an outlandish surrealism that casts such ludicrous and impossible light on life that it can’t possibly teach kids anything serious about adulthood. But cartoons are the modern fairy tales and, in the splendid tradition of the Grimm stories, these parables don’t mind getting dirty with the mess of life, such as racism, cannibalism, war, nihilism, and gambling addiction.
That’s right, sports betting, casinos, slot machines, and the whole paraphernalia of gambling are duly inked on paper by cartoonists and CGI-ed on screen by contemporary graphic lampooners.
There’s probably one gambling episode or scene in almost every long-enduring cartoon but, when the chips are down, nothing can beat the Simpsons in its philosophy on gaming addiction.
Let’s save the best for last, though. Here are some master narratives that have dealt with the various facets of gambling across the time span, the one unifying rule among them being: the grittier, the more entertaining.
Looney Tunes Fights Gambling Addiction
Warner Bros. had enough screen time to deal with every imaginable human trait, be it fault or virtue. The iconic animation company supplied our TV pantheon with archetypal characters that outlived 19th century xenophobia and the brewing tensions of the Cold War.
There were such eyebrow-raisers as Uncle Tom’s Bungalow and the Tokio Jokio, both openly ridiculing color and race. Taking full advantage of its position on the heights of the golden age of cartoon, Looney Tunes didn’t mind juggling sensitive and touchy topics such as gambling neither.
Here’s one deliciously and politically incorrect example. Early to Bet, a 1951 classic, introduces the Gamble Bug. A long-time enigma that has bugged scores of scientists studying the causes and origins of gambling addiction, Warner Bros. might have been on to something when they introduced this little pest on screen.
What’s bugging you, doc?
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is the gambling bug in his native habitat! There he is, folks! His bite causes gamble fever!”
The Gambling Bug made a short cameo in the long-standing Looney Tunes series, but its blitzkrieg apparition was enough to secure its fan base.
Another Warner Bros. character to exhibit the GGs (for those of you who are not versed into horse racing lexicon, the Gee-gee is the first horse to shoot out of the starting gate) is none other than Goofy.
A veritable punter with a penchant for horse racing, Goofy plays the well-informed turfman who, based on complicated mathematical calculations such as wind velocity and rotation of the earth, will always choose the winning stallion.
However, losing doesn’t seem to put a damper on his day either since he plays all the characters in this episode. It can be a goofy world where dollars are rolled into a celebratory tobacco.
And if you need a pair of rabbit’s feet for good luck…
Toy Story 3
Where does a gambling scene fit in Toy Story’s excessive cuteness and political correctness? Around the See 'N Say, of course. As Andy leaves for college, Woody, Buzz, and the troopers have to face the hard world of day care where Ken (Barbie’s masculine counterpart) rules the territory.
And, as tough guy/ James Bond lookalike, Ken also entertains a mini casino in the dark hours of the night when the favorite game becomes the roulette. Or, the Walt Disney version of it, the See ‘N Say.
The Simpsons - Is it D’oh or Dough?
You could find enough betting material from Matt Groening’s decades-spanning animated series to supply an entire Top 10 Simpsons gambling episodes. But, for the sake of brevity, let’s stick with a couple of quotable quips.
The Bonfire of the Manatees (season 7, episode 357) finds Homer completely swept by Professor Pigskin, a betting system with a knack for predicting the winners in American football games.
Nice spin on Bonfire of the Vanities, creative minds of the Simpson world! Another pun-titled episode to link gambling and Hollywood culture into one great Simpsons gag is $pringfield (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Legalize Gambling)”.
Part of the greatest stew of episodes in the history of the Simpsons- season 5, we all agree- “$pringfield” balances all the elements of the casino world into one great and hilarious satire about the consequences of gambling addiction.
As Homer tries his hand at being a casino dealer, Marge slips into button-slapping. In other words, she gets hooked on the slot machines.
Everyone dips a finger in the addiction pie this episode, with Burt operating a private gambling venue and Mr. Burns developing a nasty case of Howard Hughes manias.
Bob’s Burgers - or How to Flip a Win Around
An arcane American diner can only improve with an arcade machine. As Bob tries to lure customers in by renting an old penny arcade called Burger Boss, he can’t predict the whole strategy will turn against him (although that happens in every episode) when his culinary rival sets a record score under the name Bobsux.
What happens next will tickle your ribs and whet your appetite for good ol’burgers. And Tron!
Over time, Warner Bros., Disney, and Cartoon Network have covered just about every idea, topic, controversy, or historical event under the sun.
Gambling in cartoons remains high up in the laundry list of memorable one-line gags and humorous lampooning that are the trademarks of a long-running animated sitcom. May the wheel of fortune spin to cast next an intergalactic Las Vegas in Rick and Morty’s upcoming season 3.