Gambling slang help

Wondering if in gambling (primarily card games, but any kind of gambling also) - there is slang terminology for the following things:

  1. Someone who has ridden a lucky streak and now hurriedly cashes out/withdraws from further play for fear of incurring loss;

  2. Someone who is sitting on some secret trick/strategy that they are waiting to play but haven’t done so yet;

  3. A favorite who plays unnecessarily cautiously, or an underdog who plays unusually aggressively;

  4. Someone who was on the brink of victory but blew it (like “choking” in sports);

  5. Someone who foolishly keeps raising the stakes or gambling further when doing so is unnecessary and counterproductive?

Number 5 is generally referred to in poker (but I could see it in other games) as “on tilt”. Generally it also requires being angry, but I think it works for your description.

Playing timidly (#1) after winning big is sometimes called “going into (one’s) rathole.”

Although they don’t answer any of OP’s questions, slang terms from poker clubs in Northern California include:
(a) a ‘rounder’ is someone who frequents a cardroom, but without great success. A rounder may fall into any of the following categories:
(b) a ‘prop’ is payed a salary to play where management tells him too; he must still pay table fees. Management will direct him to play at a table that is ‘short’ and in danger of closing – naturally this is not a table with eager ‘fish’ or ‘pigeons.’ To ‘prop’ the high-stakes poker games, the prop also had to learn panguine well enough to play in the high-stakes panguine game, since management might direct him to play there. (I know this because my friend was a prop and explained why he couldn’t promote himself to be high-stakes poker prop.)
© a ‘cow’ is playing for 50¢ on the dollar. The other 50¢ is won or lost by someone else, often the cardroom itself. The ‘cow’ pays fees, receives no salary, but plays when and where he wants. A ‘rounder’ down on his luck might ask you to ‘go cow’ with him so he can play in a game otherwise too expensive for him.
(d) a ‘shill’ is like a ‘cow’ but playing for the house. He takes none of the wins or losses, but gets a salary. AFAIK, most No. Calif. cardrooms didn’t employ shills.
(e) a ‘swamper’ is a rounder so far down on his luck that nobody will cow with him. He receives a salary to work as a janitor/busboy.

Some of these terms, including ‘swamper’ I think, date back to at least the 19th century, though Google doesn’t seem to know this meaning of ‘swamper.’


There are no effective systems in horserace gambling, but the sandbagger believes that there are. It is very common for horseplayers who do not know each other personally, to share info, to criticize others’ selections, and to change their minds based on others’ selections. However, the sandbagger won’t share info, because “If I told you my system, it would drag down the tote.” Meaning, they would win fewer dollars than they might otherwise.

I’ve played horses alongside a few sandbaggers. They do no better than I do, using the handicapping skills I’ve learned over forty years. But they insist they have a winning system, which they won’t share. That’s fine; they win and lose just about as much as I do.


(Actually, it’s called ‘hit and run’).

Eh, I’ve always understood sandbagging to mean having an actual good play in hand (or secretly great skill at a game, e.g. bar pool) but stringing people along so the bets grow larger. Betting low on a pair of pocket aces, or losing three games in a row before “desperately” begging for a triple or nothing, that kind of thing.
Then comes the plucking of the pigeon of course (though why you’d use sandbags to handle poultry, I never knew :))

I knew a guy who spent most of his free time at the track. He had several notebooks he carried, each devoted to a particular “system”. He bet horses, but he also “pretended” to place bets in each notebook following that notebook’s system. He kept track of how he would do betting according to each system.

He believed that there were systems that could work, the trick was finding/developing the best one. It was an interesting hypothesis.

When you are putting that much time, effort and money into developing a system you would do much better with a system already in place. It’s called get a job.

That’s how I understand it too

Nah, he had money (his wife’s inheritance). To them, the track was his hobby. He spent a lot of money gambling, but his occasional wins meant that at the end of the year, his hobby was affordable.

Ah, I’m talking about the use of the term at the racetrack. I know that the term is used in other contexts, as you’ve illustrated. Sorry I wasn’t clearer about confining my remarks to horseplaying.

Thanks everyone, good help :slight_smile:

  1. I’ve heard “Hit and Run”. Also, the rathole thing. In poker specifically, “ratholing” is removing money from a game, but continuing to play. Sometimes players who are up will leave the game, then come back in at a lower buy-in, “locking in” their profit. This is also called ratholing and they may be required to come in for the amount they left with, unless they have been gone a designated amount of time.

  2. These people usually don’t even want to be identified, much less labeled. Poker players who consistently win may be referred to by staff as “serious” players or even recognized as pros. However, it’s considered gauche for staff to comment about players’ play or results. Depending on circumstances, it may even be cause for discipline. “Rounder” is a term that is somewhat dated. In years past it was a serious player or pro that “made the rounds” of the regular games.

  3. Aggressive underdogs might be described as “maniacs”, though if they are throwing chips away, while maintaining a cheerful attitude, they may be described as “throwing a party”. On the other hand, a player who never gives action without holding the nuts may be described as a “nit” or “rock”. Meticulous players who are happy to get rich slowly with minimal risk (as opposed to people trying it make a big score) are sometimes derided as “grinders”.

4 & 5) “Choking” is common at the poker table. If this is due to an emotional state, it is usually referred to as “going on tilt”. Tilt is usually a result of anger at the vagaries of luck or one’s opponents or fear of looking weak (especially if one IS weak). But, some just get more reckless after winning, when they have more chips with which to make foolish bets. Other people just play like they are mad at their money.

“Donkey” is a rude term for generally poor players, essentially synonymous with “fish” or “rube”. However, it should be noted that many serious players and professionals avoid these terms, even in jest. If someone overhears the more magnanimous sounding “producer”, they are much less likely to take offense. And the pros know that players with good funding and bad judgement are the foundation of the poker ecosystem.

Source: was a poker player, dealer, and pit boss for years. Also was Dr. Todd Fuhrman’s “technical consultant” for his book on ethics in the poker community, good read, which I recommend.

Rat-holing used to be called ‘going south’, although it’s been ages since I’ve heard anyone actually sat that at a poker table.

Betting low with pocket aces is IME commonly called slow-playing them.

“Sandbagging” definitely applies to the expert pool player who bumbles through a few low-stakes games before raising the stakes - and his level of play. In poker, it could apply to someone who intentionally plays like a chump at low stakes for a while. I think it has to be deliberate substandard play over a number of betting events to qualify as sandbagging.

Beg to differ. There is absolutely overlap, but the proper donkey is the player who refuses to get out when the odds are clearly unfavorable (“stubborn as a ____”). I hear it mostly when “better” players get snapped off by someone holding out for an odds-against late card winner…and hitting it.

“Dude, I had him fucking beat! He should have laid it down, but he’s just a fucking donk[ey].”

(Amusingly and anecdotally, I’ve also heard it more often from people who consider themselves better players than they actually are, and/or who habitually miscalculate odds or misvalue hands. I recall being directly called a donkey by a player who wasn’t interested in hearing my response that he just didn’t bet enough to take me off my 3:1 hand. So it’s not always an accurate insult.)


This term came up in an episode of the show High Stakes Poker maybe 15 years ago, in which someone (Freddie Deeb?) was accused of “going south”, and it was understood by all to be a serious allegation which he denied vociferously.