Down Mexico way where the senoritas and the chili peppers are nearly as hot as the fiery desert sun, there is something known as the bet of honor.
You can find it in many places. At the horse races or the cockfights, or a cantina where cerveza and Cuba Libres flow freely and a card game is always in progress.
Gambling south of the border is not nearly as well regulated as in the United States or the United Kingdom. That isn't to say it is less honest. Sometimes a game in the back room where the wood reeks of Cuban cigar smoke or something more powerful, the games are infinitely more honest than those regulated by governments that care about nothing except the taxes they can collect from the participants.
I first discovered the bet of honor, which is sometimes referred to as the debt of honor, at a cockfight in Guadalajara, Mexico. My then wife and I had flown there courtesy of the Mexican government on our second honeymoon. Because Mexico was picking up the tab for my flight and hotel, I was expected to write something for publication about our experiences in the land made famous by Pancho Villa, tequila, and sombrero-wearing Mariachis.
I was happy to do that. Unlike some critics of anything south of the U.S. border, I happen to love Mexico. The deep sea fishing in Guaymas, Rocky Point and the Sea of Cortez rivals anything you can find in Florida. The food is wonderful. And the hard-working Mexican people with their inherent honesty provide me with a never-ending delight.
If you have never been to a cockfight, it goes like this. The battle-scarred roosters are brought to the war zone in red and green boxes. There the handlers, whose hands are as scarred as the fighting cocks because of being nipped by the razors attached to their talons, massage the roosters before arming them with the blades.
The massage of the tough birds -- and they are tough because one of the trainers let me handle one -- stimulates their hearts and gears them for the battle about to begin.
While a Mariachi band serenades the crowd, a Priest steps forward and blesses the roosters. With the preliminaries out of the way, the handlers step into the ring and the wagering begins.
There is no 'House' at a cock fight. Nobody handles the bets or takes a cut of the action. It's just you and the person who accepts your wager. In my case, I liked the rooster in the red box, so I pointed to that box and spread my fingers in the air. This meant I wished to bet 500 pesos on the red rooster. A middle-aged Mexican a short distance away nodded and spread his five fingers, meaning he accepted my bet.
The battle was on. And what a glorious fight it was! No wonder Picasso and Ted DeGrazia, a marvelous artist from Tucson AZ. who studied under the revolutionary artist Diego Rivera chose cock fights and bullfights for their paintings.
As the roosters circled and slashed at each other, the fans roared, like they were at a bullfight. Colors blazed, feathers flew. If you were too close to the action, you were splattered by flecks of blood.
I tried to keep my eyes on my rooster, but it was impossible. My cock was down, and then up. Then I didn't know if the bird was up or down, or if my choice was winning or losing. It was glorious.
And finally, in a heart-bursting instant, it was over.
I was drenched with emotion and then pride when a woman came over to congratulate me. Her name was Dulce and one of the Mariachi singers was her father.
'Your rooster won, Senior,' she said. She smiled as she offered me her hand.
The Mexican who had lost to me came over and paid me five hundred pesos. Tradition demands that the person who lost to you gets to select the cock in the next fight if he cares to continue wagering. It would be unthinkable and a disgrace for a winner to refuse to accept the wager.
Dulce spoke rapidly to the man in Spanish. Then she turned to me.
'Senior,' she said, 'he does not have any more money. But he wishes to bet 500 pesos on the bird of his choice. If he wins, you pay him the money. If he loses, he will pay you what he owes at the next cock fighting event, which is Saturday. In Mexico, we call this the bet of honor. Is that agreeable to you?'
Of course it was agreeable. I accepted the wager.
He selected the rooster in the green box. I was stuck with the bird in the red box, which gave a dismal performance. When the winner came over to collect, I pretended to scowl as I handed him back his money.
'You were unlucky, Amigo,' he said. 'Maybe next time you will win.' We celebrated by having a drink of pulque at the tequila bar. I have to confess the bet of honor was one I thoroughly enjoyed losing to an honorable man.
Author: Geno Lawrenzi Jr.
(Geno Lawrenzi Jr. is an international journalist, magazine author and ghostwriter. If you have a unique gambling story to share with him, you may qualify for a cash award. Send your story with all the details to firstname.lastname@example.org ).Back to articles