Gambling during the wars was commonplace despite the military authorities frowning upon it. Those caught faced punishment and yet most did so regardless. From the dice games of the British army to the German front line card games gambling during the wars was endemic. An influx of troops saw foreign armies bring their games with them to introduce new ways to win and lose. Even the military itself was responsible for allowing privates to bet on sports in Belgium during the war.
The propensity for soldiers to gamble is well known. Perhaps it’s the risky nature of their profession. Gambling during the wars was commonplace and, if out of sight, largely ignored. Recreation is hard to find on a battlefield. In WWI games may have differed on opposite sides of no man’s land, but the popularity didn’t. Both sides engaged in games of chance on a regular basis. The Germans preferring Skat, a card game, and the British Crown & Anchor, a game of dice.
This is probably because German trenches were, by-and-large, drier than British ones. The Germans had room to play Skat. Skat is Germany’s national card game. Gambling during the war saw people of various social classes meet and develop new variations of the game. A three-handed trick winning game it was hugely popular amongst both officers and the ranks. Those Germans who might otherwise have bet on sports in Belgium contented themselves with this game.
Both Sides Bet In The Trenches Throughout WW1
Meanwhile across the divide, the British played Crown & Anchor, a dice game. Throw three dice at a board of six symbols, bet on what ends up where. The banker has a large edge in this game, which says much about the British Army and why they prohibited it. Caught gambling during the wars a British solider would face seven days Field Punishment No.2 This involved being docked pay, shackled and doing hard labor, sometimes in the front lines. A truly terrifying prospect.
George Bernard Shaw – 1913
- “In gambling the many must lose in order that the few may win.”
The Anzacs brought Two-Up from Australia, a game involving two concurrent coin tosses, and the Americans arrived with Craps. The popularity of craps has endured ever since and it’s still played by Europeans at online betting sites in Belgium like Unibet. The military frowned upon all this but could do little about it. For purposes of morale, they played inter-unit football matches and even held tank races. The common soldiery, and their officers, promptly bet on all of them.
Unibet Unavailable For Gambling During The Wars
By WWII the most common gambling during the war was, for the British, pontoon. A direct descendant of Vingt Et Un and resembling Blackjack in numerous ways, this was hugely popular. In every theatre of war, in every unit, there would be a pontoon school and often with some interesting peculiarities. This is often a hallmark of gambling in the military. Regional variations were subdivided by even more localized rules and traditions. This could make it tricky for the unwary.
- Sunday morning we Roman Catholics were religiously gathered around playing Pontoon. A devout Scots gunner was about to say ‘Pontoons Only’ when Bombardier Bastard entered. “Stop,” he said. The Scots gunner with a twenty-one hand, and therefore heir to a fortune, collapsed.
In 1914 troops went off to war singing “The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo” but by 1945 no one felt like winners. The bordellos and bars that accompany troops wherever they go provided gambling during the wars. They still do. Online sportsbook sites in Belgium like Unibet might today provide a far more salubrious service but its origins are in a field in Flanders. War forced so many to risk it all for honour, the largest upshot was to lessen the view that gambling must be a vice.
We take a look at gambling during the wars when men risked all for honour and then gambled for pleasure.