penny-ante game, a

a penny-ante game

1. Literally, a card game in which participants only pay a penny or similarly small amount of money as an initial stake and raise bets in such increments. Students were caught playing penny-ante games of poker during lunch, which went against the school's strict no-gambling policy. Do you want to come play poker with us? It'll just be a penny-ante game, so don't worry about losing money. I'm not great at cards, so I only play penny-ante games—otherwise, I'd go broke!
2. By extension, an action, enterprise, or endeavor with little or no significance, importance, or worth. I'm tired of playing penny-ante games with these small freelance contracts. I want to work on something really ambitious for a change! Most of her political career has been spent dealing with penny-ante games in the local community. Now she's got her eye on something much bigger—a seat in Congress. You'll only get recognition for your writing in a big city like New York or LA—being a journalist in this small-town is a penny-ante game.
See also: game
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

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.”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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