7 Ways People Gamble in Bars and Taverns

Hand Holding Money With a Sports Bar Background

When I thought about gambling outside of my standard atmosphere, personal digital device, and casino, a list began to form of other ways wagering occurs at bars and taverns.

The first thing I noticed was that many of them are designed to create a more social environment. Some may seem crazy, but here’s one thing I’ve learned:

People love excitement.

Let’s look at a few of these perhaps crazy but exciting games plus some of the more standard avenues of gambling.

1 – Bar Olympics (Uber Highly Suggested)

One of my local pubs would have an annual bar Olympics where participants accumulate points throughout the event. The one with the highest points wins the prestigious Bar Olympic Championship trophy and claim to fame (or infamy). The game awarded points for winning numerous bar games and allowed bonus points for — you guessed it — the size of your bar tab.

Bar Olympics are specifically designed to be coed, where couples compete against other couples in each of the games designated within the bar.

The games played at this specific location are pool, shuffleboard, darts, ping pong, and bags (cornhole).

This is by no means a comprehensive list of bar games available, and each location should choose what the locals play.

But ensuring a physical aspect to be part of the Olympics is to be more in line with this theme.

Closeup of a Dartboard With Three Darts

Each team played other teams from a blind draw per event, and wins were tallied after each match. The bartender keeps a tally of drinks taken by each team member, and these can be used as bonus points added to a team’s total.

Choose your partner wisely.

I have to say that as crazy as this may sound, it was a blast. You will find the annual Bar Olympics discussed by all players and spectators alike throughout the year. Plus, you get a trophy and a nameplate on the permanent bar trophy for all to see your victory.

Entry fees and payouts are easily associated with this event.

2 – Fantasy Sports

Pick your fantasy sport, and the bar creates the perfect environment to have the draft and weekly specials that entice customers back for high drama displayed by grown men and women.

For some reason, my fantasy drafts and games are much better at the pub versus being at home in front of my computer, It must have something to do with hearing some of the hilariously ridiculous statements by others at my local tavern.

I participate in both baseball and football leagues, but that’s because that’s the primary focus for my region. Other games are equally exciting, and local taverns will gear specific days to cater to fantasy outlets. “Sunday Funday” has been especially useful with football side bets occurring throughout the day.

Here’s one crucial “not to do”:

We used to have a person buy a round of shots for all if they picked a player already selected during the draft. Ugh, that is not only tough on the pocketbook, but it seemed to happen more frequently throughout the draft as the shots accumulated.

Our wives were not happy with our final physical condition.

3 – Yahtzee

Yahtzee is a pot-based dice game played at numerous local pubs, and the winner takes all. The game uses five dice.

If you haven’t played Yahtzee, it works by trying to get the same number on all five of the dice.

A player gets three rolls and may roll all of the dice on any of the rolls.

At my local bars, I walk up to the bar and only have to say one question to the bartender, “Yahtzee?”.

Boom, a box appears ready to roll.

Five Dice on a Wooden Table Showing Ones

Contributions vary, but most of the time, it’s a dollar to pay into the accumulated pot. As you might imagine, these pots can get sizeable.

The probability of getting all five dice with the same number is only 4.6%.

This game is a unique short experience, but I have noticed that after one person plays, it seems to be contagious. Usually, several others that watched want to give it a try, and the banter begins with each new participant.

4 – Poker Tournaments

Poker tournaments at local pubs can be found in every reasonably sized city. The great thing about these is that most are free. The pub will usually have a sign-up sheet, and, once signed up, you scan the environment to find a seat that suits you best.

Prizes can be cash or bar coupon credits to be used for products within the bar, but some local laws do not allow them to be used on alcohol. That might seem strange, but everywhere is a little different. I need to look at these tournaments as fun and not miss the entertainment received from watching the players at the table.

Since many of the patrons do not associate any money with their chips, bets are frequent, and calls are even more frequent. So, reading players can be challenging until later in the rounds.

When I make it through the crazy “all-ins” to reach the final table, my skills as a player become more visible — the best somehow seem to make it there as well.

Most bar poker is Texas Hold’em, which allows more players at a table. It’s also a simple game — especially compared to Omaha poker.

Blinds increase quickly, and the whole tournament is usually over in two hours.

These poker tournaments are fun and a great way to participate in gambling with a minimal investment. One caution, though — watch where you’re sitting because there will be the occasional intoxicated person. Beer spillage can be close at hand.

5 – Taco Beer Fun Run

The name of this title sounds crazy, but this has probably been one of my favorite annual bar events. This game does not require anything like the encouraged drinking related to Bar Olympics, but you are required to drink three beers.

There’s a small entry fee (around $10), and the game is open to all players of the legal drinking age. The object is to be able to drink three beers, eat two tacos, and run a reasonable oval-shaped distance. Each player starts in front of the pub and is required to drink a 12 oz beer. Then the player begins running, walking, or jogging, depending on his or her level of commitment. The course need not be too long and oval-shaped to avoid collisions — and cheating.

Pint of Beer and Two Tacos

Once at the halfway point of the course, each player must drink another 12 oz beer before continuing along the route. When the player reaches the end of the course, they must drink another 12 oz beer and eat two tacos before ringing the bell.

Sound simple?

I thought so until I tried quickly drinking my beer at the halfway point. A person is monitoring the beer-drinking because some of the people basically throw the beer at their mouth versus drinking it.

The winner gets the yearlong acknowledgment and is immortalized on the Taco Beer Fun Run trophy.  The turnout for this event was amazingly strong, and many of the people simply walked while enjoying the overall atmosphere and friendships.

6 – Random Weekly Tournaments

There are weekly tournaments associated with many of the previously discussed Bar Olympics games like pool, shuffleboard, ping pong, darts, and video games (like golf or bowling). Most of these tournaments have a $10 entry fee, and the pub usually contributes to the pot, which significantly helps the ROI.

These tournaments have payouts ranging from first place to third place, with first getting the highest percentage of the pot and third getting a little more than the entry fee. I have found these to be highly competitive, primarily when they are geared around darts or pool.

7 – Trivia

Trivia is probably the most unrecognized form of gambling in bars. I can get a machine for free and play. The exciting thing about trivia to me is that I’m playing against people in other bars.

Smart bar owners, especially in a localized area, can pool their resources together and have weekly tournaments where it’s more of a battle of the bars with prizes for the winners.

Prizes can range from individual payouts to overall drink specials associated with the top bar in town.

These types of structures are more challenging to find but tend to be more prevalent in college towns where the owners have closer relationships with one another. It can often lead to group “bar hopping” to tout my team’s victory over the other competitors.


There are many other pub gambling games, and while reading this, I’m sure you thought of a few personal ones that you like best. I tried to mix it up with a few of my favorites and the traditionally known forms of gambling.

You’ll see that, in most of these, the goal is not about financial security but more about building relationships and bragging rights. Some of the ones I mentioned involve drinking, and you should be wise before entering these contests.

My all-time favorite is the Bar Olympics, and even though I do not live in that town any longer, when I visit, I always stop by to see my name immortalized on the trophy.

As we get older, I think we call it those glory days?