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Gambling in Cartoons: Early to Bet

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You’re probably familiar with Warner Bros. After all, few cartoons can stack up against the company’s famous collection of shorts and characters that appeared on Looney Tunes over the years. However, did you know that Bugs Bunny wasn’t the only bug in the Warner Bros. wheelhouse? In fact, the iconic animation company once produced a theatrical short for its Merrie Melodies series that centered on the addictiveness of gambling and one of the most infectious one-time characters in cartoon history.

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Early to Bet, released on May 12, 1951, was a seven minute masterpiece starring one of history’s most politically incorrect leading characters, The Gambling Bug. Sporting a green tie, a red jacket, a brown hat and a white tuxedo, this little bug had a big impact on his fellow characters. Unlike more dangerous insects, The Gambling Bug’s only venom was an infectious need to gamble, which spread to those around him without fail.

The short chapter in animation history begins by introducing the audience to The Gambling Bug. First, the bug coaxes visitors to a bar into wagering on some interestingly strange bets. Whether betting on which side of a beer mug a fly will land or calling a simple coin flip, people can’t avoid the urge to gamble when the infectious star is nearby.

The cat insists that he’s had enough at this point, but the bug has other plans. Another bite leads to another loss for the hapless feline, and the penalty is a toilet plunger to the face. Again, the cat is reluctant to play another hand, and, again, the bug changes his mind with a quick bite. This time, the cat’s punishment involves a barrel of gunpowder, a match and a lot of pain.

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The cat insists that he’s had enough at this point, but the bug has other plans. Another bite leads to another loss for the hapless feline, and the penalty is a toilet plunger to the face. Again, the cat is reluctant to play another hand, and, again, the bug changes his mind with a quick bite. This time, the cat’s punishment involves a barrel of gunpowder, a match and a lot of pain.

Fortunately for the cat, he gets the last laugh. When the dog refuses to play again for the sake of the cat’s health, the bug agrees to play a hand with the cat. When the feline’s cards prove to be superior, The Gambling Bug becomes a victim of the ultimate penalty: being whacked by a newspaper!

While gambling and other touchy topics were fair play in the golden age of cartoons, today’s animated creations rarely tread in these areas. Early to Bet is a great example of what made animated shorts of the 1950’s so appealing to children of all ages for generations. Unfortunately for The Gambling Bug, the rolled up newspaper spelled doom for his inclusion in Warner Bros. cartoons for nearly 50 years. He did, however, make a brief appearance in the classic basketball film Space Jam.

Next time you get an irresistible urge to play a game of chance, consider it an homage to one of the most infectious characters in cartoon history. Whatever your game of choice may be, there’s always time to catch The Gambling Bug.

Gemma Sykes

Gemma is not only a great game player who enjoys casino halls, she is also a great jazz dancer. She has a very keen interest in the way things work, her curiosity got her a job on online gambling industry as a writer. Always looking for new and fun ways to do things and still have time for the spotlight.