Gamblers don't always bet with money, and they don't always limit their betting to the casino. This is as true in art as it is in life. After all, if Lando Calrissian hadn't bet the Millennium Falcon in the "Star Wars" saga backstory, Han Solo would never have won his legendary spaceship.
Stories abound of people who have run out of money, but throw a gold watch or their car keys onto a pile of poker chips, so desperate are they to stay in the game. Stories also abound of people who put a bunch of money on the line to challenge someone to live up to a boast that they've made.
Gambling can be so irresistible and compelling to some people that they'll do it even if there's no money to do it with, and no official venue in which to do it. CNBC.com presents a list of strange items that people have bet with, and the peculiar things that they bet on.
—By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 16 April 2014
"Money Talks" takes viewers inside the world of Steve Stevens, a sports handicapper who runs VIP Sports out of Las Vegas. Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Andrei Karpov had a problem common to many poker players. He had run out of money, but he wanted to stay in the game he was playing against fellow gambler Sergey Brodov. According to The Washington Post, the resident of Murmansk, Russia, solved the problem by throwing his wife Tatiana onto the pot, metaphorically speaking.
He lost, and Tatiana was so incensed that she divorced him. But luckily, she found another man, whom she later married. Conveniently enough, that man was none other than Sergey Brodov. "Sergey was a very handsome, charming man, and I am very happy with him, even if he did 'win' me in a poker game," she said, according to The Seattle Times.
John Hennigan is a formidable presence at the poker table, as his $1.6 million first-place finish at the 2007 Borgata Poker Classic in Atlantic City, N.J., attests. Away from the action, however, it's a different story.
According to The New York Times, he was bet by a group of his friends that he couldn't live in Des Moines, Iowa. for six weeks. He took the bet, only to flee the birthplace of actress Cloris Leachman after just two days.
On April 12, 2004, BBC News reported that a U.K. man named Ashley Revell had walked into the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, approached the roulette wheel and put $135,300 on red. He won and doubled his money, but this was more than just a regular high-stakes bet. Every last cent that he had wagered was the result of him selling off everything he owned, including his clothes.
"Looking back on it now, I mean, at no point before I did the bet did I think about losing," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "I just felt positive and thought about just going ahead and winning. But now I've actually won, I can think about what would have happened if I'd lost. And to be honest, I was crazy to do this bet. It was the maddest thing. I mean, this is really about all I've got left, the tuxedo, which I'm not allowed to keep."
Brian Zembic was dared by a friend to get breast implants and keep them for a year. If he did it, he would win $100,000, and not only did he go through with it, he has kept them in to this day, netting an additional $10,000 every year per the terms of the bet, according to the U.K.'s Daily Mail.
Unsurprisingly, Zembic became a minor celebrity as a result of the procedure. In 1999 he appeared on Comedy Central's "The Man Show" to showcase his cosmetic attributes, and in the same year he became one of the subjects of the Michael Konik book "The Man With the $100,000 Breasts and Other Gambling Stories."
John Davis "Jackie" Gaughan Sr. was a casino owner and all-around Las Vegas fixture. According to the Las Vegas Sun, he was often seen tooling around Sin City in a modest Ford Bronco with his dog at his side, belying his vast wealth.
In 1979, the hotel and casino that he operated and lived in, the El Cortez, offered betting action on the location where the Skylab space station would crash to earth, including the hotel itself. Unfortunately, the one place he didn't bet on was the place where it actually landed, outside of Perth, Western Australia.
Professional poker player Howard Lederer used to be quite overweight, but he underwent gastric bypass surgery to get things under control, according to American Jewish Life Magazine. He also changed his diet and became a vegetarian, so fellow poker player David Grey decided to put it to the test.
"I'd been a vegetarian for about four years and I was playing in this big poker game, when David Grey offered me $10,000 to eat a cheeseburger," Lederer said in a 2006 interview with the professional poker publication Bluff magazine. He said that he took the bet and ate the burger, making Grey several thousand dollars poorer. "He paid up, but what really made him upset, I think, was that it didn't make me sick."
The late Johnny Moss was a professional poker legend who was alleged to take spontaneous side bets if they were appealing enough. According to an anecdote related by Lederer, Moss allegedly accepted a bar bet with excellent odds and horrible consequences.
"Moss was at a bar where one of the regulars was known for being the toughest fighter around," Lederer told Cigar Aficionado. "A gambler laid Moss $15,000 to $1,000 that Moss couldn't beat up this guy, with the condition that Moss would get in the first shot."
Moss was allegedly beaten so badly that he wound up in the hospital. But according to On the River, the poker blog of the Journal Star, he had no regrets. "Fifteen-to-one was too good to pass up," he said. "I had to take it."
Harold P. Warren was a fertilizer salesman who dabbled in writing and acting, and during an acting gig, he met screenwriter Stirling Silliphant. According to Entertainment Weekly, the two got talking, and Warren said that filmmaking didn't look so hard to him. This claim escalated into a bet that he could make his own movie, so after drafting the plot on napkins and raising $19,000 from friends, he made the 1966 film "Manos: The Hands of Fate."
He saw the film through from concept to completion and won his bet. However, it holds a zero percent rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, and in 2005 The Los Angeles Times called it "a work of dazzling stupidity and an incompetence so decadent that it's hard to understand how Warren managed to dress himself in the morning." In 1992, seven years after his death, his film was immortalized as the subject of an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."
Kyle Tarboro was playing poker with Brian Hamedl, who claimed to have a container of urine in his car which Tarboro could use to pass a drug test. They wagered $300 on whether or not this was actually true, and when the game ended, Tarboro demand either the money or the urine. According to the Lehigh Valley Morning Call, Hamedl said that the bet was "absurd," causing Tarboro to physically attack him.
According to The Express-Times, Tarboro was found guilty of simple assault, false imprisonment and false reports, and he was sentenced to 20 months to four years in prison. He was also ordered to pay almost $54,000 in restitution, according to The Express-Times. The best line of the trial was uttered by Assistant District Attorney Robert Eyer, who told the jury that it was "not very often I stand before a jury and talk about bets over urine," according to the Morning Call.
"Money Talks" takes viewers inside the world of Steve Stevens, a sports handicapper who runs VIP Sports out of Las Vegas. The one-hour docu-soap follows Stevens and his stable of agents who sell their picks to gamblers looking for any kind of edge. From small-time bettors who will lay-out a few hundred to the whales who put six figures on the line, this is a world built on high risk, high reward and high emotions. In a city of distractions and every imaginable vice, Stevens needs to keep his agents focused on building new business while entertaining big-time bettors who come to Vegas with big bankrolls and even bigger expectations.