We look at seven examples of how gambling was part of the everyday background in some of our most precious science fiction memories
Gambling Amongst The Stars
• Dabo and Tongo from Star Trek
• Sabacc from Star Wars
• 4D pontoon from Red Dwarf
Following on from Seven Gambling Futures From Science Fiction (Part One) here is our list of seven instances where gambling intersected with the Science fiction you remember watching, even as a small child. So strap on your blaster, beam up to your ship and make sure your light-sabre is polished because here we go.
1. Blake’s 7
This 1970s British TV Sci-fi series saw a colorful mixture of characters crew an advanced space cruiser as rebels fighting against the ghastly forces of the Federation. Their leader, Blake, having been falsely convicted of kiddy fiddling, saw it as his duty to bring down this evil empire led by Servalan, the cruella De Vil of this particular future. Amongst the crew were Kerr Avon, computer genius & fraudster, as well as Villa Restal, talented thief.
It was these two who, in a lull of activity, used the hyper-clever computer Orac to win in the Big Wheel Casino, where the game was, however unlikely it sounds, speed chess played against a diminutive chap called Klute. The prize money was huge, but the penalty for losing was to be vaporized in one’s seat naturally our two rough diamonds managed to win and get away with it, gambling news of their exploits wouldn’t reach their fellow crew mates.
2. Babylon 5
Our last best hope for peace, and later victory, this constantly rotating cylinder was a small city in space, touted as a center of trade and diplomacy but far more usually a scene of intrigue and light comic relief this US series from the mid-nineties decided that some things can’t be improved upon which is why the gambling that takes place involves a game that many of us would find instantly recognizable as poker.
Admittedly it is rare in poker games on Bet365 at this point in the space time continuum to have a Centauri Ambassador attempt to cheat by using his tentacle like sexual organs to exchange cards whilst his hands remain in view and occupied, as the character Londo did. The somewhat morally dubious nature of this example somewhat tempered by his being caught and a fight starting as the fact of his cheating comes to light.
3. Battlestar Galactica
In both the version from the late seventies and its more modern incarnation, recreation for Viper pilots seems to consist of casual sex, sweaty exercise of some sort and a friendly game of Triad. This is typically accompanied by drink and cigars and incomprehensible talk of hands and wins that makes no sense to anyone but the underlying message is that if one is on the run across the galaxy from a race of killer robots, you probably won’t mind the risk of a fiscal loss at cards……or indeed social diseases.
In the latter series the whole issue is given an added frisson by dint of it being perfectly possible for one of the people you’re playing triad with not being a person at all but actually one of the kill robots, a dimension of gambling only a science fiction writer could possibly imagine. Described as a bluffing game it’s similarities with poker are all too clear, the inference always being this is what heroes do with their down time.
4. Star Trek
The most famous science fiction franchise ever it has been the inspiration for any number of actualized inventions, from quantum computing to mobile phones, but gambling didn’t figure much in the original series with Kirk, Spock and Co, it was only in the later spin offs that it became de rigeur for those aboard star ships and space stations to spend their time gambling. In “The Next Generation” the senior staff all played poker, sometimes the entire plot hung from those games, but it was “Deep Space Nine” that gave us Quark’s.
Quark, being a Ferenghi, ran the sort of establishment that would be familiar to anyone who likes to bet on sports in the US today, a bar cum casino where the table game was Dabo, a sort of roulette from the looks of the thing, although Ferenghi themselves played “Tongo” a trading game where real money was wagered, won and lost against your opponents. The rules of neither of these were ever made very clear, but they were never portrayed as anything but a normal run of the mill pastimes for our Federation heroes.
5. Star Wars
At first glance there seems very little gambling in the original Star Wars trilogy (lets not even mention those three travesties that followed on all those years later) but both major characters and massive pieces of the plot hinge on gambling. Luke Skywalker might have been the clean cut farm boy that rose to be a Jedi but he’d have been blown out of the sky in the grey canyons of the Deathstar had it not been for Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon.
It is only later it transpires that Han won the ship from Lando Calrissian in a game of what I am assured is called Sabacc which appears to cross poker with tarot cards and spit out an incarnation of gambling that we aren’t even shown, but we are told the way you get a ship like that to zoom about the galaxy with an over-grown teddy bear and a princess on your arm was to gamble. Reputedly a game of 76 cards, including suits of coins, staves, flasks and sabres, it has three winning hands, none of which feature in the films.
6. Logan’s Run
From a game we don’t see to a game you can’t win. Logan’s Run depicted a futuristic society on Earth living in a domed city where everything is free and easy right up until the time you’re thirty, when you are entered into the creepy game of Carrousel, ostensibly to see if you can win the right to rebirth, but in the reality just so you can be vaporized to keep the population numbers within manageable limits. The fact that no one wins at carrousel is known to some who then run away to prevent their participation, the basis of the entire plot.
This is an example of how the only way science fiction manages to make gambling in any way negative is by taking it to ridiculous extremes. The killjoys attempting to keep current US gambling laws unfit for purpose, but entirely suitable to their own nefarious ends, often try to portray internet gambling as being similar to Carrousel, which frankly only makes it more attractive given at their advanced age they’d be amongst the first to be floated to an atomized doom.
7. Red Dwarf
Since we’ve had a game that you don’t see, and indeed one you can’t win, perhaps it is as well that our final example never even made it to the screen in any sense, but was scrapped by the program makers for being budget bustingly expensive to recreate in the manner the writers would have wished. The laconic comic adventures of Lister, Kryten, Rimmer & Cat were to have included an episode where gambling was to feature significantly, alas never made.
Listers plan to win enough mushy peas to buy a female feline called Aura from a disreputable bunch of gangsters going horrifically wrong and leaving the crew of four without even their space craft’s keys, according to the script. The game was to be four-dimensional pontoon (better known to our US readers as Blackjack) where one wagers, however ridiculously, on the next hand dealt rather than the one you currently have. This proves tricky for Lister as he is already drunk on GELF hooch, the negative connotation placed on his inebriation and not the game.
If you missed it don’t forget to put this list in a proper context by reading Seven Gambling Futures From Science Fiction (Part One)