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In honor of our new Big Fish Casino Guide, we just can’t get enough on the history of gambling! There’s so much adventure and excitement. From the rise of millionaire moguls to the secrets of prohibition, from old traditions to new technologies emerging, from in-laws to outlaws, across the Atlantic and back -we have the stories of how it all got started.  Discover how it began with our Big Fish series on Casino Legends: The History of Gambling.

Richard Nixon: The Big Bluffer

Richard Nixon in June 1971, courtesy Wikimedia Commons via Library of Congress.
Richard Nixon in June 1971, courtesy Wikimedia Commons via Library of Congress.

Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, and due the Watergate scandal, known as the only president to ever resign from office. His presidential achievements include forging diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union and China, and withdrawing troops from the Vietnam War. While not remembered as the best president, he is remembered as a great poker player.

“Believe it not, I turned it down because I was the host of a poker game that night. I think back to turning down a chance to sit down with Lindbergh to have a poker game. I can’t imagine it happening. Years later, I was glad that he could be the guest at the White House when I was President.” –Richard Nixon on meeting Charles Lindbergh

 

While enlisted in the navy, Nixon was known as a tight player who was successful at big bluffs. He won so much money from his fellow officers playing stud poker that he was able to use his winnings to finance his first congressional campaign. While the nickname, “Big Bluffer” may have been a foreshadowing of political scandal to come, we still salute his poker prowess.


Warren G Harding: The Poker Cabinet

Warren G Harding and his first cabinet in 1921. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons via Library of Congress.
Warren G Harding and his first cabinet in 1921. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons via Library of Congress.

The 29th US president, Warren G Harding served for only a short time. Taking office in 1921 until an apparent heart attack in 1923 his presidency was surrounded by controversy and corruption in his cabinet, such as the Teapot Dome Scandal, although the president himself was never implicated. Harding was considered a pro-business republican and presided during the post-World War I era. Of interesting note are the fact that he won the first presidential election where women were able to vote, and he was the first president to visit Alaska.

“No rumor could have exceeded the reality [in the White House]; the study was filled with cronies, the air heavy with tobacco smoke, trays with bottles containing every imaginable brand of whiskey stood about, cards and poker chips ready at hand–a general atmosphere of waist-coat unbuttoned, feet on the desk, and the spittoon alongside.”–Alice Roosevelt Longworth on the poker games of Harding

 

While ruling in a time of prohibition and under the reputation of a likeable and non-controversial man, Harding was actually far more outlandish than the public realized at the time. He was known for having multiple extramarital affairs and frequent poker games. Harding’s biweekly poker games with friends were so well know, that his card playing group was jokingly called, “The Poker Cabinet”.  In tables heavily laden in cigar smoke and whiskey (even during the legal prohibition of alcohol), he is reported to have once gambled away a set of White House china in the card game.


Harry Truman: The Buck Stops Here

Harry Truman at his desk, courtesy Wikimedia Commons by Chase-Statler, Washington.
Harry Truman at his desk, courtesy Wikimedia Commons by Chase-Statler, Washington.

Harry Truman took office as the 33rd president of the United States in 1945, and left office in 1953. Truman gained office only three months into his vice presidential term, when President Franklin D Roosevelt suddenly died of cerebral hemorrhage. Overshadowing any other issues or achievements of his time in office, Truman is remembered for signing the orders to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

“I like to play cards and dance… and go to shows and do all the things [religious people] say I shouldn’t, but I don’t feel badly about it.” –Harry Truman writing to Bess Wallace, Feb 1911.

 

Harry Truman loved the game of poker, learning to play cards from his aunt and uncle in Missouri. Refining his card skills in poker games, Truman kept in touch with his army buddies as a judge in Independence, Missouri, playing across the street in a group called the Harpie Club (named after harmonicas, not predators). He kept up with his games even after becoming president, famously getting a set of poker chips embossed with the presidential seal. His famous quote and sign on his desk, “The BUCK STOPS here!” was actually derived from the poker term “buck”, referencing a buck knife that used to be used as a dealer button in early poker games.


Franklin D Roosevelt: Radio Chip Riffling

Franklin Roosevelt throwing out the opening pitch at Griffith Stadium, 1933. Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons via Harris and Ewing.
Franklin Roosevelt throwing out the opening pitch at Griffith Stadium, 1933. Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons via Harris and Ewing.

The only US president to be elected four times, Franklin Delano Roosevelt first took office as the nation’s 32nd president in 1932. Known in modern day for overcoming paralysis due to polio, he helped fund the charity now known as the March of Dimes. As a strong voice for federal government with his New Deal initiatives, he guided the country through World War II to a victory of the German Nazis. Also famous in her time, his wife Eleanor encouraged FDR to appoint more women to federal posts than any president before him.

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.“ – Franklin D Roosevelt

 

Roosevelt was a great bluffer in the game of poker, constantly driving the game onwards. He considered poker his favorite indoor game, with fishing his preferred outdoor sport. His style of play often intrigued people, since he spent so much time studying his opponent (probably an asset in his great political career also). This study made him frequently lose the first few hands, while regaining all his losses by the end of the game. People claimed they could occasionally hear him riffling poker chips while giving his famous “Fireside Chats”, which were radio programs broadcast throughout World War II.


Dwight Eisenhower: The Compassionate Loss

General Dwight Eisenhower in ruins at Warsaw, 1944. By Central Photographic Agency on Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
General Dwight Eisenhower in ruins at Warsaw, 1944. By Central Photographic Agency on Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

Known as the military General who helped lead troops to a victory of Nazi Germany in D-Day 1944, Eisenhower became our 34th president in the 1952 election with the slogan “I like Ike.” A brilliant tactician, his war time service was marked by strategic victories across Europe. These victories helped him easily earn election, and reelection in landslide victories. His term as president was marked by eight years of peace and prosperity.

“I was fascinated by the game and really studied hard.” In reference to his mentor, he would, “drill me on percentages – I was never able to play the game carelessly or wide open. I adhered strictly to percentages.” –Dwight D Eisenhower on learning poker.

 

Ike learned how to play poker from an old timer in his hometown of Abilene, Kansas.  The old-timer was illiterate, but a wizard at percentages, drilling Ike that cards are not played carelessly. Like many soldiers of his day, Eisenhower enjoyed playing cards with the troops. While playing with General Patton during the war, Ike became very concerned about a soldier’s loss. He arranged a game the next night where the parties all agreed to lose in order to compensate the poor soldier for the previous night’s loss.

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