The Gambler (song)

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"The Gambler"
The Gambler - Kenny Rogers.jpg
Single by Kenny Rogers
from the album The Gambler
B-side"Momma's Waiting"
ReleasedNovember 15, 1978
LabelUnited Artists
Songwriter(s)Don Schlitz
Producer(s)Larry Butler
Kenny Rogers singles chronology
"Anyone Who Isn't Me Tonight"
"The Gambler"
"All I Ever Need Is You"

"The Gambler" is a song written by Don Schlitz and recorded by several artists, most famously by American country music singer Kenny Rogers.

Don Schlitz wrote this song in August 1976 when he was 23 years old. It took two years of shopping the song around Nashville before Bobby Bare recorded it on his album Bare at the urging of Shel Silverstein. Bare's version did not catch on and was never released as a single, so Schlitz recorded it himself, but that version failed to chart higher than No. 65. Other musicians took notice and recorded the song in 1978, including Johnny Cash, who put it on his album Gone Girl.

It was Kenny Rogers, however, who made the song a mainstream success. His version was a No. 1 country hit and made its way to the pop charts at a time when country songs rarely crossed over. It was released in November 1978 as the title track from his album The Gambler which won him the Grammy award for best male country vocal performance in 1980.[1] In 2006, Don Schlitz appeared in the Kenny Rogers career retrospective documentary "The Journey", in which he praised both Rogers' and producer Larry Butler's contributions to the song, stating "they added several ideas that were not mine, including the new guitar intro".

It was one of five consecutive songs by Rogers to hit No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts.[2] On the pop chart, the song made it to No. 16, and No. 3 on the Easy Listening chart.[3] It has become one of Rogers's most enduring hits and a signature song. As of November 13, 2013, the digital sales of the single stood at 798,000 copies and after all these years the single has yet to be certified gold by RIAA certifications.[4] In 2018, it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or artistically significant."[5] Following Rogers' death on March 20, 2020, "The Gambler" soared to No. 1 on Billboard's Digital Song Sales chart, followed by "Islands in the Stream", with Dolly Parton, which debuted at No. 2.[6]


The song itself tells the story of a late-night meeting on a train "bound for nowhere" between the narrator and a man known only as "the gambler". The gambler tells the narrator that he can tell he is down on his luck ("out of aces") by the look in his eyes, and offers him advice in exchange for his last swallow of whisky. After the gambler takes the drink (and a cigarette), he gives the following advice:

You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,

Know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table,

There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

The gambler then mentions that the "secret to survivin' is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep" and that "the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep". At this point, the gambler puts out the cigarette and goes to sleep. Shortly thereafter, he indeed dies in his sleep as he had hoped; "somewhere in the darkness, the gambler, he broke even", and the narrator finds "an ace that I could keep", "in his final words."[7]

Chart performance[edit]


Region Certification Certified units/sales
New Zealand (RMNZ)[19] 2× Platinum 40,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[20] Platinum 600,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Cover versions[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Kenny Rogers starred in a series of TV movies loosely inspired by the song and set in the Old West, starting with Kenny Rogers as The Gambler (1980) and followed by Kenny Rogers as The Gambler: The Adventure Continues (1983), Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, Part III: The Legend Continues (1987), The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991), and Gambler V: Playing for Keeps (1994).
  • In 1979, when Rogers guest-starred in a season 4 episode of The Muppet Show, he performed this song with a Muppet character.[21] Rogers is shown seated on a train with three muppets, one of them The Gambler (portrayed by Jerry Nelson). Rogers sings the opening verse, while Nelson sings most of "The Gambler's" dialog, then falls asleep just as Rogers concludes the song's story. After he dies, The Gambler's spirit rises from his Muppet body, singing backup and dances to the song's last two choruses, and lets a deck of cards fly from his hand before fading away.
  • The USFL team Houston Gamblers was named after this song. Kenny Rogers was born and raised in Houston, Texas.
  • In a 1990 episode of the sitcom Perfect Strangers, Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) sings the chorus of the song while demonstrating his new stereo chair. He stops when Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) joins him in the chair and the sing-along. (season 6 episode 1, "Safe at Home")
  • A caricature parody of Kenny Rogers singing the song appeared in the 1993 Pinky and the Brain short "Bubba Bo Bob Brain" (season 1, episode 34). The lyrics to this version were changed to refer to Go Fish: "You gotta know how to cut 'em, know how to shuffle, know how to deal the cards before you play fish with me."
  • Country Yossi parodied the song in the 1980s on his ‘’’Wanted’’’ album as ‘’The Rabbi.’’[1]
  • The song was used in the movie, George of the Jungle 2, while playing a card game.
  • In a 1996 episode of the sitcom NewsRadio, Matthew (Andy Dick) comically misquotes the chorus of the song. (season 2 episode 13, "In Through The Out Door")
  • On an episode of Monday Night Raw on November 12, 2001 at the FleetCenter in Boston, Massachusetts, wrestler The Rock sang the chorus to the then heel character of Stone Cold Steve Austin in a sing off after Austin sang "Delta Dawn" off key to jeers, The Rock sang the chorus of "The Gambler" to cheers.
  • The song became a dressing room anthem for the England players in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, which led to it becoming a pop UK top 40 hit.
  • On May 10, 2007, the cast of The Office sings the chorus of the song on the bus in the episode, "Beach Games."
  • On July 21, 2009, the song was released for the music game Rock Band as a playable track as part of the "Rock Band Country Track Pack" compilation disc. It was then made available via digital download on Dec 29, 2009.
  • A 2014 Geico television commercial features Rogers singing part of the song a cappella during a card game, to the displeasure of the other players.
  • The song was ranked number 18 out of the top 76 songs of the 1970s by Internet radio station WDDF Radio in their 2016 countdown.[22]
  • The song plays during a montage scene in an episode of Supernatural titled "Weekend at Bobby's" and in another episode titled "Inside Man".
  • The song was played during a 2019 MLB World Series commercial showing Houston Astros players playing poker.
  • The song appears briefly in the 2019 Clint Eastwood film Richard Jewell.[23]


  1. ^ Reader's digest almanac and yearbook, 1981, p. 274
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 298.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 207.
  4. ^ Matt Bjorke (November 13, 2013). "Country Chart News - The Top 30 Digital Singles - November 13, 2013: CMA Awards Drive Sales; Eric Church "The Outsiders" #1; Taylor Swift "Red" #3". Roughstock. Archived from the original on April 21, 2014.
  5. ^ "National Recording Registry Reaches 500". Library of Congress. March 21, 2018. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  6. ^ Trust, Gary; Asked, Jim (March 30, 2020). "Kenny Rogers Has the Top Two Best-Selling Songs of the Week". Billboard. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  7. ^ Betts, Stephen L. (March 21, 2020). "See Kenny Rogers Perform 'The Gambler' on 'The Muppet Show'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  8. ^ "Australian Chart Book". Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  9. ^ " – Kenny Rogers – The Gambler". Top 40 Singles.
  10. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  11. ^ "KENNY ROGERS | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". Archived from the original on 2011-12-24. Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  12. ^ "Kenny Rogers Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  13. ^ "Kenny Rogers Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  14. ^ "Kenny Rogers Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  15. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 3/10/79". 1979-03-10. Archived from the original on 2016-03-18. Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  16. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  17. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1979/Top 100 Songs of 1979". Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  18. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1979". 1979-12-29. Archived from the original on 2014-07-13. Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  19. ^ "New Zealand single certifications – Kenny Rogers – The Gambler". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved March 28, 2020.
  20. ^ "British single certifications – Kenny Rogers – The Gambler". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  21. ^ "Kenny Rogers' The Gambler on the Muppet Show". May 14, 2020 – via YouTube.
  22. ^ "Best of the 70's & 80's". WDDF Radio. Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  23. ^ "IMDB Page". Retrieved March 25, 2020.