Gambling Flashback in Springfield
Popular animated sitcom The Simpsons featured an episode on legalized gambling in 1993. We look back at the episode, and its celebrity gambler Marge Simpson.
As one of the most popular television programs in the world over a period of almost two decades, US animated sitcom The Simpsons has always included plenty of commentary on contemporary politics and society.
While this commentary has increased in recent years as the program's original fan-base have matured into adults, the show was already flirting with such commentary on important issues when it was in its infancy back in the early 1990s.
The $ in $pringfield
"$pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)", the tenth episode in The Simpsons' fifth season, originally went to air in the US on December 16, 1993. The plot revolves around the creation of a casino in the Simpson family's home town of Springfield, as a response to the flagging fortunes of the town's economy.
Town meetings have been used in Simpsons' episodes throughout the years to show the population agreeing to economic renewal projects such as building a monorail. In this case, Mayor Quimby agrees to a proposal to build a casino, and Springfield's resident billionaire - power plant owner Mr Burns - inevitably gets to build it in his name ("Mr Burns' Casino").
Simpson family patriarch Homer gets a job at the casino as a blackjack dealer, while son Bart, rejected on the grounds of being too young, builds his own rival casino for kids in his tree house. Bart's casino includes entertainers (Bart's best friend Milhouse and resident bully Jimbo) and betting games.
One scene shows a board in Bart's casino displaying the odds on the occurrence of various scenarios:
"Krabappel [ed: Bart's school teacher] nervous breakdown: 2-1
Fat kid popular: 50-1
Bart gets his own TV show: 1000-1"
The main focus of the episode is the ensuing gambling addiction of Simpson mother Marge. Initially Homer pays no attention to it, thinking Marge is actually refraining from gambling, telling her: "Wait! I see what's happening here. You're just mad because everyone in this town loves gambling except for you. Well that's just sad."
Later, as Marge neglects the family, failing to even help daughter Lisa design her Florida costume for a geography pageant, the family realizes the truth. Homer tells Lisa: "Your mom still loves you. It's just that she has a career now. She's a slot-jockey. "
Gambling gone too far
When Homer eventually brings Marge around to realizing her addiction has gone too far, he makes some amusing references to his own past indiscretions, such as letting an escaped mental patient into their house "because he was dressed like Santa Claus", to debate that what Marge did was worse.
Typical of a Simpson's episode, the show makes several cultural references to other gambling-related television programs and movies. The replacement of the "S" in Springfield with a "$" sign mocks 80s TV program Vega$. In a deleted scene later shown on "The Simpsons' 138th episode spectacular", Homer deals cards to James Bond.
Pop culture references
The episode title also borrows from all-time classic feature film "Dr Strangelove (or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)".
While gambling is only technically legal today in two US states - Nevada and New Jersey, American Indian reservations are also free under the law to organize their own gambling institutions. Many of these reservations also host online gambling.