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Beating the Odds, the greatest collection of gambling terms ever compiled


Zoe Satherley
12 September 2007

Imagine sitting around a poker table at showdown time, feeling pretty good about the hand you are holding when someone calls out ‘lalapalooza!’ What has just happened? Or maybe a friend invites you to enter the local ‘cow-pat bingo’ competition.

Don’t fret if you don’t know what these terms mean because now you can look up these definitions – and practically any other gaming term or question you have ever had, including odd expressions like ‘wet feet’, ‘chuck-a-luck’ and ‘nine men’s Morris’.

You will find all the answers in a new book ‘Beating the Odds’ launched recently at Southern Cross University.

‘Beating the Odds: The complete dictionary of gambling and games of chance’, by John McPherson, a School of Tourism and Hospitality Management communications and gaming tutor, and a PhD candidate in the Centre for Gambling Education and Research, has just been published by Geoff Slattery Publishing in Melbourne.

An eight-year labour of love, the dictionary includes well over 5,500 entries and listings and defines a vast array of terms connected with gambling, racing and games of chance from ancient times and cultures to the internet age.

It has already received international recognition, with Anthony Curtis, the founder of leading American gambling e-zine, Las Vegas Advisor, describing it as ‘the greatest collection of gambling terms ever compiled’.

It covers everything from the role of gambling in deciding the realms of the Greek gods, to explanations of gambling equipment used in ancient Rome; from game rules for mah jong to a history of poker and even the cross-cultural popularity of cockfights.

Associate Professor Nerilee Hing, head of Southern Cross University’s Centre for Gambling Education and Research, said the dictionary was such a rich source of information that ‘the reader comes away in awe of the writer’s research, in admiration of the work involved and with a far greater appreciation of the ubiquitous and global nature of gambling throughout the ages and how our language has been shaped and coloured by gambling practices and terms’.

John McPherson said the historical scope of his work ‘ … goes back to the dawn of sentient human record-keeping. However, gambling is a practice that long pre-dates the keeping of records’.

McPherson, who is also a playwright and fiction writer, said: “One thing I wanted to ensure was that the dictionary was readable; that it would be entertaining to just sit down with. As it was, with colourful characters such as the libertine Casanova and the ancient Greek warrior Xenophon, the history of gambling is anything but dull.”

Lovers of the turf are also in for a treat. There are over 1500 terms that deal specifically with horse, dog and even camel racing. Many of the most influential horse breeds over the past 1000 years, such as the Akhal-Teke, Barb, Arab and many others are included.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine what terms have not made it into the book. The historic scope of the dictionary makes it more of an encyclopaedic work than a mere listing of terms and definitions.

“Dice, for instance, were initially made of goat, sheep or even dog knuckles and were an important component in early scrying, or divination,” John said. “We still see those early knuckles today in toy stores in the form of ‘jacks’. Amazingly, the rules of jacks have changed very little since the time of the Macedonian Empire of Alexander.”

‘Beating The Odds: The Comprehensive Dictionary of Gambling and Games of Chance’ by John McPherson, is now available at bookstores or online through Geoff Slattery Publishing at

Southern Cross University’s Centre for Gambling Education and Research aims to achieve excellence through the development and provision of quality education and research relating to gambling, its operations, management, policy and impacts and has been established as a response to the recent exponential growth in legalised gambling in Australia and in many other countries. This growth has been accompanied by a demand for research into gambling, along with related education and training.

Photo: John McPherson launches ‘Beating the Odds’ – a unique dictionary hailed as ‘the greatest collection of gambling terms ever compiled’.