Like most historically downtrodden people, we Cajuns have our fair share of vices, or what I like to think of as the four in’s: drinkin’, cussin’, fightin’ (not so much), and gamblin’. Now gambling is such a huge part of our culture, with so many different types, that they can’t all be detailed in a single post. For today, let’s focus on one of the most traditional forms of gambling in Cajun culture…the card game.
The favorite form of gambling for most of the old school Cajuns is the local card game. Every small town has a bar or two where people gather for a game of bourré or euchre. The bar takes a house cut from each pot, and usually provides a meal for the players to keep them playing. Local police almost always look the other way, provided they get their taste of the action.
Now I’m not suggesting that all or even most Cajuns have gambling problems any more than I’d suggest we all have drinking problems. Sure, many overdo it, but the majority of us exercise moderation. Gambling’s most obvious appeal may be the chance to win some money, but it’s also a way to socialize with friends and pass the time, all while having a bit of fun. And what Cajun doesn’t like to pass a good time? After all, laissez les bon temps rouler is practically our state motto.
Some of my earliest memories are of the weekly card games my family held. I can remember going to my mom mom’s (grandmother’s) house every Sunday and as soon as lunch was over, a sheet would be draped over the kitchen table to make dealing the cards easier. My family would break out their rolls of quarters and a pack of Bulldog Squeezers playing cards for a friendly game of bourré (pronounced boo-ray). Most games had a $10 buy in, with a 50 cent ante per pot. This was just enough to keep things interesting, and those who lost always had a chance to win it back the next week. Sometimes we grandchildren would sit around and play a game of bataille with each other, mimicking our elders. Nothing made my mom mom happier then sweeping a big mound of quarters into her pile after winning a big hand.
In the 1990s, gambling became more corporatized with the advent of video poker on every corner, the introduction of the Louisiana lottery, and the opening of numerous Indian and riverboat casinos across the state. This combined with the gradual dying off of the older generation has changed the face of gambling in Louisiana. Gone is the social aspect, and while your family was unlikely to take your house from you, the casinos have no qualms about it.