Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Posts Tagged ‘Bela

Inside and Outside of Game

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We are not gambling, we are playing – said NF, one of my informants and a devoted card-player. For the last several years he has held card nights at his home. His three friends visit him on Mondays to play Bela – a widespread card game that originates from France. His friends are all married; he has been single until last year.

I am told countless times that ‘the boys play cards for fun’. What goes on in-between card activities – shuffling, cutting, dealing, throwing, counting and collecting – is exchange of friendliness. Boys share stories about their lives; they are rarely serious, and mostly tease each other. As a child, NF saw his father gather three of his friends to play Bela every week. It was a way to hold on to friendships once the family life would take over most of the time.

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Bela is not exclusively played by men, but most men play it to mark a special time away from their romantic and family lives. This is why when NF was especially busy with his new family plans and his house stopped being a single man’s hide-out, the boys decided to go out and play in a bar. Bela time and space migrated across the domestic border.

The playground for this particular card game has changed in more than one way. For example, playing Bela in public is seen today in a more relaxed way than before. Similarly, whereas today Bela is played mostly without money, in the past it used to be one of the most frequent games for gambling. I find out from senior players that during Socialism, when casinos were banned to Yugoslav citizens, Bela was played with high stakes. I hear stories of people gambling away their cars and houses in this ‘playful and fun’ game.

It is interesting how rules of the game might remain the same but our symbolic and moral economy towards the game change over time and across space. It is not enough to know the rules of the game, but to know why and under which conditions the game is played.


Written by Andrea Pisac

September 19, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Posted in News

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