HISTORY OF POKER
Poker is the quintessential American card games, just about
as American as apple pie. It was even played by our founding
fathers, and another form was played by Native Americans before
the arrival of the Europeans.
In the nineteenth century, every state and territory west
of the Mississippi River had casinos. And most, if not all,
offered poker. Poker was played on the gambling riverboats
cruising the Mississippi in Mark Twain's day (just as it is
In the late nineteenth century, poker was played in plush
casinos in New York and other big eastern cities. When the
New York City casinos were shut down, the casinos moved upstate
to Saratoga Springs, where poker was played in "Lake
Houses," because many of the casinos were located near
At the turn of the century, the famous gambler Richard Canfield
owned the most popular casino in Saratoga Springs, called
The Casino. Many of the richest industrial giants of the time
played in high stakes poker games at this location.
Around 1910, political reform and a progressive movement swept
many corrupt local governments out of office and closed down
all casinos, so, like alcohol soon after, poker was relegated
to the back rooms and "speakeasies" of the day,
where it flourished.
Gambling was declared illegal in Nevada in 1912, and it wasn't
until ZO years later that the state realized it was their
only real source of income, and legalized it once again. But
the casino operators soon realized they could make far more
money with slots, roulette, blackjack, and craps, so poker
was soon bumped to the back room areas of the casino.
Bugs Siegel, who is given credit for defining the Las Vegas
Strip, did not have poker in mind when he built the Flamingo
in the late 1940s. With few exceptions, the Strip hotels built
through the 1960s and 1970s did not even offer poker. You
had to go to the "sawdust joints" and smoky back
rooms of the downtown casinos to find game. And in those days,
the locals mainly played poker.
But things changed when Benny Binion, owner of the Horseshoe
Casino in downtown Las Vegas, designed a tournament called
"The World Series of Poker." This tournament, with
its $10,000 buy-in and winner-take-all format, drew many of
the professionals from the private poker circuits around the
country and began popularizing the games. With the media publicizing
the tournament, the tourists and Friday night poker players
watched in amazement as huge sums of cash changed hands.