Regardless of what people think, bowling is gambling, period! If you bowl league, you put your weekly dues in the envelope and hope your team beats the other teams and you win the most money at the end of 36 weeks. That is a gamble my friends. You bowl a tournament. You are putting up your money that you can beat the rest of the field. Putting your money up to try to beat a dealer in a casino dealing blackjack is no different, it’s a gamble. But let’s look at this more in depth, and I am going to give you some examples of how bowling and gambling are really joined at the hip.

When I turned 18 I started to bowl in a money league(see back then you had to finish bowling YABA and could not bowl an ABC league and earn scholarship money like today, but that is a WHOLE different issue I can rant about). When I started bowling with the men, I got to know more about the guys I used to watch bowl as a kid. But I did not get to know about what equipment they liked best, or what layouts they preferred, I got to know about the guys personal interests. I say this, and I stand by this line. I do not know any group of people that are bigger degenerate gamblers than bowlers. When I started bowling with the men I would see football sheets, March Madness pools, or hear about who had a tip on a horse at the Meadowlands. If it was a sport, there was action on it. I had always loved sports as a kid, but now this was a totally different arena I was about to enter. I wanted to be liked by these guys, and honestly, I would have probably done anything for them to like me. So in essence, I had to learn how to not only talk sports, but talk sports and put a gambling twist on it. A month into bowling league, I knew who the bookies of the league were, who were the guys who loved going to the race track, who could get me a comped room in Atlantic City, and who had a nightly card game. Now as I got older, I dabbled a little bit, but mainly in playing cards, which I still love to do today. After our classic league on Thursday nights, we would play Texas Hold-Em from about 11:30 till 7am in the pro shop. There were nights where we could not use the shop, so we had to compromise. We played in the back of a limo(one of the bowlers owned a limo company), or we would play in the back of a tuxedo shop(another guy owned a shop), or we would even rent a hotel room for the night and play there. It all links back, bowlers love to gamble, PERIOD!

When I moved to Brooklyn, I loved going to Maple Lanes on a Saturday afternoon for the weekly pot games. Now if you read my previous article, Where Has the Action Gone, you would know that Maple was the mecca for action bowling back in the day. I loved to bowl the pot games, 18 guys across 3 pairs of lanes, side bets, and once the pots were over, you could get 1 on 1 matches, which I LOVED!! Bowling action in Brooklyn was more than just bowling my opponent. If I had a $50 match on the lanes, I would have another $50 with a guy in the back who would bet on my opponent, I’d have action with someone else that I would shoot over 225, I’d have action on an over/under of the score my opponent would bowl. I would even go far to bet $1, or $2 a frame with someone on how many pins my opponent would knock down. Before I knew it, my $50 a game match now became $250 a game. I could not get enough action. Just throw the cash on the chairs and bowl. No better feeling in the world to beat your opponent, pick up the cash, then walk around the back and have total strangers just put cash in your hands!! But this all ties back to gambling. I had people come with me when I bowled action just to bet on me. Guys that never threw a bowling ball in their lives, but knew they could make a couple hundred dollars a night by betting, they loved it.

I also used to bowl a lot of action at Roosevelt Lanes in Jersey City, NJ (RIP Roosevelt Lanes). On Friday nights at midnight, they would run a 2 game eliminator tournament, it would normally end by 2am. Once the tournament was done, whoever wanted to leave had to leave, whoever wanted to bowl would stay. The manager would lock the doors, and you’d be bowling action all night long. BUT again, if bowling wasn’t your thing, Roosevelt had other means to support your addiction. You had guys playing Chinese poker on the low end of the house, you had other people playing hold-em in the nursery, and you had guys throwing dice on the high end of the house, all while you had 12 or so lanes of action going on for several hundred or thousands of dollars. Those Friday nights I really miss more than anything. The people there were so cool, if you lost on the lanes, your opponent would pay lineage and most likely buy you breakfast at the diner across the street. Cool right?

Nowadays, you hear the famous gambling slang on the lanes. Hey Jim, over/under 220 this game, bet a beer? Hey Mike, I got the nuts on this pair, I can’t miss. Look at this team, they are drawing dead heading into the 10th frame. Those are phrases you would typically hear on a telecast of the World Series of Poker, not at a local bowling tournament. Gambling and bowling are very closely connected, and I Think it is good for bowling. Even in the movie Rounders with Matt Damon, bowling is associated with gambling. Towards the end of the movie, Matt Damon is playing a high limit card game in upstate NY, and his partner, Ed Norton gets brought into the game by a local. The local came into the game and said I found this guy at the bowling alley and he likes to play cards. Even Hollywood knows that if you like to gamble, hang out at the bowling alley, and some kind of action will find you. I guess bowlers just have the mentality of a gambler…. they want to hit the jackpot once and not crap out on the lanes!

Mike Valanzano, 29 from NJ. Bowled for Morehead State University and has competed and had success at all levels of this game, he is the holder of 21 300 games, 10 800 series, with a  high of 856 (with an open frame).   Mike is married to his wonderful wife Lynda and have a baby girl, Daniella.  Some of Mike’s interests, he’s a HUGE New York Mets fan, he loves poker, traveling, and fine dining.  He is also a big advocate of zumba classes.  Mike has one of the largest video collections of old bowling shows anywhere.  He has every amateur bowling show ever aired and has a wide collection of numerous PBA, Sr PBA, LPBT shows from the 1950’s thru today.



  1. The Clown says:

    I’ve been to my fair share of bowling alleys over the years and can honestly agree with everything this writer has said. My cousin is a fantastic bowler and I’ve gone with him countless times to the lanes, and the terminology he states in this article, “over/ under,” “got the nuts,” and “drawing dead” are definitely used on the lanes as much as at a poker table. I find it fascinating that people are starting to link the connection between gambling and bowling, because honestly, it seems like one was made for the other. Really enjoyed this article and keep up the good work guys!

  2. Who wrote this article? Jimmy the Squirrel?

    Honestly, as interesting as these anecdotes are, they are stories from a by-gone era.

    It is damn near impossible to get anyone to bowl for $1/game, let alone any big action.

    Those must have been the days…

  3. Mike Valanzano says:

    I could walk into any bowling center right now and get a match, you have to know the center and the people there. If I walked into a center after the classic league is over, and I challenged the best guy in the house, I am pretty sure I’d get a match. Would you like to challenge me Mick???

  4. jaguarjer4jc says:

    I am a recovering compulsive gambler and I bowl in a league on Thursday nights. The writer of this article found a way to take gambling and bowling and try to say it’s six in one hand, half a dozen in the other when it’s not. I get the money part of it, but generalizing that all bowlers are gamblers is a pretty general statement. Do people gamble a lot during bowling? Sure they do with the jackpots, brackets, etc., but to essentially say that I am relapsing on a weekly basis pisses me off because it’s not true. I don’t get in the jackpots, brackets, or 50/50 and it’s not gambling because I am not wagering money. I pay my dues to be part of something with competition. Never once have I thought or felt I was betting on a weekly basis. I will stop the complaining now, but before writing the next one, do your best to not generalize everyone.

  5. Ron Simms says:

    Enjoyed your article. Big difference in the bowling center scene today vs. back in the day. But my question is, how can I get some of the old vintage video tapings of bowling that you have when it was great TV??? I have some but sounds like you have much more. I would love to see some of them. ESPN Classics keeps playing the same ones over and over. There were some great shows that are never televised!!!!

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