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Top-10 non-card betting games

9 December 2013

My top-10 list last week was all about card games you could bet on that aren't poker. While Casino City Editor-In-Chief Vin Narayanan had a beef with some of my choices (he believes 7/27 and guts are poker games), the entire editorial department agreed that it was fun to think about betting on games that aren't poker.

So this week, my top-10 list is devoted entirely to games that you can bet on that aren't card games.

10. Foot race
I ran track and cross country in college, and while I'm not nearly as fast as I used to be (three kids and inadequate training will lead you to put on a few pounds), I've been known to make a wager or two on the outcome of a race. Once it was a simple "Loser has to wear a T-shirt of the other's choosing." Earlier this summer, I bet a fellow Clydesdale (running jargon for runners who carry a few extra lbs) $20 on the outcome of a race. Sadly for me, I lost both of those contests. But those bets did manage to motivate me to train quite a bit harder than I would have otherwise, so while I lost the bets themselves, they were still beneficial to me.

9. Bowling
My father was in a bowling league for years, and I used to be in a league in the summers with my dad. Whenever everyone on the team except for one player rolled a strike in the same frame, the odd man out had to buy candy bars for the rest of the team. It didn't happen often, but was a lot of fun when it did.

While that's not exactly wagering, it is a prop bet of sorts. There are, of course, all manner of bets that can be made at the lanes. You can bet straight up on who will post the highest score. You can handicap the scores and bet on the adjusted outcome. (Worth noting: Don't bet with Vin at the lanes. He'll tank the first game just to get a high handicap then beat you outright.)

You can also make some great prop bets. I once heard World Series of Poker Media Director Nolan Dalla threw his car keys on the scorer's table when an intern was facing a 7-10 split and said if she converted it for a spare, he'd give her his car. He nearly fainted when she came perilously close to actually pulling off the hardest shot in bowling.

If you haven't bet on bowling, do it, even if it's just a dollar a game. And make some prop bets along the way. After all, arguing about the odds is way more fun than just bowling on its own.

8. Paper football
If you went to high school in the United States, you probably know what paper football is. All you need to do is fold up a piece of paper into a triangle, have an opponent form uprights with their hands and fingers, and attempt to flick the ball through. If you're done your homework, this was a great way to kill time in study hall.

It's not that much fun now, though, when you're out of school. But why not give it a go again, but this time with some cheddar on the line?

7. Wii sports
Sure, you can bet on just about any video game, but games on the Nintendo Wii were just made for betting. Bowling and golf, especially, make for great betting games, but other great ones include baseball, boxing or some of the Wii balance board games.

6. Penny hockey
Another great school time waster, all you need to play penny hockey is three pennies, a table and two players with at least one hand. You start by putting the three pennies together, flat on the table in a pyramid. You hit the back penny, causing the pennies to spread out on the table. To proceed, you must hit one of the pennies through the other two, continuing down the table until you either knock a penny off the table or score a goal by getting a penny in your opponent's goal, formed with their index and pinky fingers.

5. Dice
I've never been a big fan of dice games, personally, but there are plenty to choose from. Of course craps is a popular one, but you can also play games like Farkle or Yahtzee. Dice games can combine a great mix of math and luck, which is perfect for betting.

4. Board games
There are too many board games to mention that are great to bet on, but my personal favorite has to be Monopoly. The only way to make the ultimate game of capitalism better is by betting real green on it. Other games can be fun, too, but just make sure there's no opportunity for collusion. I can't play Settlers of Catan with my in-laws anymore, because my father-in-law makes horrendous trades with my wife; he's not nearly cutthroat enough in business dealings with her. That's a nice sentiment, but when you're trying to win a game, you can't let family relationships lead you astray.

3. Backgammon
I've never played backgammon for money, but my guess is that I'd find it extremely frustrating. I'm not good at losing, especially when I think I've got a winning strategy. I've learned to handle a bad beat at the poker table (most of the time, at least), but getting a bad beat through the roll of the dice -- or worse, finding yourself stuck with a 1-in-6 chance of getting to make a move because your opponent is just a lot better than you -- well that's still a foreign concept to me.

But that doesn't mean it's not a good betting game. The key to being a winning player in backgammon is knowing when you have the edge and using the doubling cube. If you offer to double the stakes and your opponent accepts, the game goes on. If they refuse, you win. The doubling cube always remains in one person's possession, and after it changes hands, stays unless and until the other player opts to offer it back (and thus double the stakes again).

2. Billiards
There's nothing better than throwing down a few bucks at the pool table. Once when I was in college, I was in a bar in South Carolina with a good friend, playing doubles pool with some locals. We were killing these guys, who appeared to be fall-down drunk. They offered to play us for $20 a game. We instead offered to play for a pitcher of beer. They accepted, and I've never seen people sober up so quickly. After realizing we'd been hustled, we laughed, bought them a pitcher of beer and sat down at a nearby table, giving up the pool tables for the night.

About 15 minutes later, a scuffle broke out at the tables and the bartender ran out to break up the fight, dragging one of the guys who'd schooled us by the elbow into the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later with a complimentary pitcher for us and said "Sorry about that, guys. Don't worry, I've got the knife now."

We hadn't seen the knife, but quickly decided we'd better call it a night (after we finished the pitcher, of course ... the free one got us to break-even for the night, and we were in college after all ...).

There are lots of ways to bet on pool. Bet that you'll win in 8-ball or 9-ball. Or make a per-ball bet in straight pool. Make prop bets that you can sink a shot, or, if you're really brave, bet that you can get the people playing next to you to let you have one of their chicken fingers. Yes, I've bet that one of my friends wouldn't be able to pull it off, and yes, I won the bet. That may have been one of the most entertaining failed bets I've ever seen.

1. Golf
Wagering on golf is as old as the game itself. You can bet on the outcome of a round, a hole, the longest drive, closest to the pin and any number of other bets. My personal favorite betting method is a skins game, where the winner of each hole gets a reward, which usually grows as the round goes on. If more than one player ties for the best score on a hole, the "skin" for that hole rolls over to the next and the person who gets the best score on that hole -- even if they didn't post one of the best scores on the previous hole -- wins.

Golf is also a great betting game because it can be handicapped. And as I've said earlier in this column, half the fun of the betting is arguing about where to set the handicap number. So even if you're not a regular player, next summer get out on the links and put some money on the line. It will put some added stress on the game, and that always makes things more fun, right?
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.