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"
Music video
"The Gambler" on YouTube

"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 the 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, and won him the Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1980.[1] Rogers is accompanied on the recording by the vocal group The Jordanaires.

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".


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 smokes 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". Shortly thereafter, the gambler puts out his cigarette and dies in his sleep; "somewhere in the darkness, the gambler, he broke even", and the narrator finds "an ace that I could keep" in his final words.[2]


On the American Top 40 radio program of February 3, 1979, Casey Kasem reported that Schlitz said of "The Gambler": "Something more than me wrote that song. I'm convinced of that. I really had no idea where the song was coming from. There was something going through my head, which was my father. It was just a song, and it somehow filtered through me. Six weeks later I received the final verse. Months later it came to me that it was inspired by, and possibly a gift from, my father." Schlitz's father had died in 1976.

Chart performance[edit]


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[16] Gold 45,000double-dagger
New Zealand (RMNZ)[17] 2× Platinum 40,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[18] Platinum 600,000double-dagger

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


The song became Rogers's signature song and most enduring hit. It was one of five consecutive songs by Rogers to hit No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts.[19] On the pop chart, the song made it to No. 16, and No. 3 on the Easy Listening chart.[20] It inspired 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).

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.[21] In 2018, it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or artistically significant."[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]

In popular culture[edit]



  • In 1979, when Rogers guest-starred in a season 4 episode of The Muppet Show, he performed this song with a Muppet character.[25] 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.[26]
  • 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."
  • In the 2007 episode of The Office "Beach Games," Kevin Malone sings the verses of the song in the bus while the rest of the staff joins him for the chorus. This was a nod to Kevin's having a gambling problem.


  • Country Yossi parodied the song in the 1980s on his Wanted album as "The Rabbi".[27]
  • 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 made available via digital download on at the end of 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.
  • In the 2016 video game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, this happens on one occasion in the game's fifth case: If Apollo Justice presents the wrong evidence, Phoenix recounts something about a gambler singing the first part of the chorus, after which the judge chimes in that he likes the song before singing the rest of the chorus. Apollo, embarrassed, thinks, "I don't know what's worse: the penalty, or their singing."
  • The song was featured in the trailer for the 2021 film Army of the Dead.
  • The song was featured in the 2021 film King Richard.


  1. ^ Reader's digest almanac and yearbook, 1981, p. 274
  2. ^ "The Gambler lyrics". Retrieved June 1, 2021.
  3. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 256. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  4. ^ "Kenny Rogers – The Gambler". Top 40 Singles.
  5. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  6. ^ "KENNY ROGERS | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". Archived from the original on December 24, 2011. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  7. ^ "Kenny Rogers Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  8. ^ "Kenny Rogers Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  9. ^ "Kenny Rogers Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  10. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 3/10/79". March 10, 1979. Archived from the original on March 18, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  11. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". July 17, 2013. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  12. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1979/Top 100 Songs of 1979". Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  13. ^ "Adult Contemporary Songs – Year-End 1979". Billboard. January 2, 2013. Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  14. ^ "Hot Country Songs – Year-End 1979". Billboard. January 2, 2013. Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  15. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1979". December 29, 1979. Archived from the original on July 13, 2014. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  16. ^ "Danish single certifications – Kenny Rogers – The Gambler". IFPI Danmark. Retrieved September 15, 2021.
  17. ^ "New Zealand single certifications – Kenny Rogers – The Gambler". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved March 28, 2020.
  18. ^ "British single certifications – Kenny Rogers – The Gambler". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  19. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006 (second ed.). Record Research. p. 298.
  20. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 207.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "National Recording Registry Reaches 500". Library of Congress. March 21, 2018. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  23. ^ "Best of the 70's & 80's". WDDF Radio. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  24. ^ Trust, Gary (March 30, 2020). "Kenny Rogers Has the Top Two Best-Selling Songs of the Week". Billboard. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  25. ^ "Kenny Rogers' The Gambler on the Muppet Show". May 14, 2020. Archived from the original on December 14, 2021 – via YouTube.
  26. ^ Betts, Stephen L. (March 21, 2020). "See Kenny Rogers Perform 'The Gambler' on 'The Muppet Show'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  27. ^ "Does anyone know the lyrics for".

External links[edit]