penny-ante game, a

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penny-ante game, a

A low-level enterprise. This term comes from poker, where ante, Latin for “before,” signifies the chips placed on the table before betting begins. In a penny-ante game, a chip is worth only one cent, or a penny, the lowest possible stake. Like many other poker terms, by the mid-1800s this one was transferred to unrelated enterprises to signify “small-time” or “unimportant.” Thus, the Negro Digest (August 1946) stated, “Compared to the man Bilbo, 63-year-old John Ruskin is strictly penny ante and colorless,” and M. Maguire in Scratchproof (1976), “I’m not a penny-ante hood.”