Gambling has been around for a long time. I mean, a really long time. There is evidence to suggest that humans were playing gambling games with bone dice, back when civilisation was still a unique, yet to be fully realised concept. Yes, we were so eager to get our casino games on, that we carved dice from animal bones, throwing any notion that dice should be uniform in design to the wind.
And, since casino games have been around for so long, you can bet that there were many recognisable names in history that enjoyed getting busy at the local casinos.
Now, what’s most interesting to me personally is not that many famous historical figures enjoyed casino games, but that it is often not widely known, unless you go looking for the information. I guess that Casanova enjoying casino games comes secondary to his reputation as a womaniser. After all, it’s far more interesting that he went through ladies at an alarming rate, isn’t it? Well… it is to me anyways… life goals and all that.
With that all being said, here are a few interesting characters in popular history that enjoyed betting on casino games, some of which you may not have known about.
George Washington and Other Founding Fathers
When you do a Google search for famous gamblers in history, you generally get the same list, mentioning Montague, Dostoevsky, the above mentioned Casanova, and a few others. If you want to get to the less popularly known gamblers, you have to do a bit of digging. And, if nothing else, you can’t hide dirt from me. I’ll dig, I’ll find it, and I’ll talk about it. Because what is life if you’re not able to dig up dirt, point to it, and gleefully clap your hands?
I had to go out of my way to find mention of George Washington not only betting on racehorses, but also breeding his own race horses. Now I can’t lie and say I know much about American history, because I certainly don’t, but I’ll be damned if I ever heard mention of George Washington breeding race horses.
But it doesn’t stop there. Upon reading further I learned that Washington and a chum of his, Jefferson, not only bet on the occasional horse race, but, as the article I read put it, “just about anything else they could.” Supposedly back in the day you could bet on such things as frog races, rat races, and all manner of other odd things, simply because such things were available at the time.
An interesting bit of history I was not aware of, and yet more evidence of how engrained casino games have been in human history.
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Now as far as historical figures go, it’s probably the most obvious that the legendary Wild Bill liked to play poker in the local saloons. He is, after all, a cowboy, and what did cowboys do other than playing cards, shooting six guns, and chasing stagecoaches in epic horse chase scenes?
James “Wild Bill” Butler Hickok was known for bringing law and order to the west, being uncompromisingly steadfast against criminals, but slightly less so for being shot in the head while playing cards. I mean, the “dead man’s hand” is a sort of a surviving myth, based around the hand he had when dying, but some still don’t make the connection that it was testimony to how much time he used to spend playing cards.
As far as I can tell, doing a bit of reading, Wild Bill was more or less a poker playing addict, as well as a pretty heavy drinker. That’s not to say he wasn’t still a great man who did a lot of good, just that people tend to pay less attention to the negative parts of his personality. Either way, I wrote a blog about the dead man’s hand anomaly a while ago, and that in itself is a bit of a conundrum.
Ian Flemming, the author of the James Bond books, has a pretty interesting history. He was not an actual secret service agent, like famed children’s book author Roald Dahl, but had a story worth looking into never the less. Just as a side note, take some time to read about Roald Dahl if you get the chance – that is some fascinating information. Who knew that they guy who wrote James and the Giant Peach was technically the real James Bond?
Now, when reading Casino Royale, you might guess that Ian Flemming enjoyed casino games, but the part that fascinates me is that hardly any mention is made of it when talking about Ian Flemming. Although, of course, you could argue that it is perhaps the least interesting part of history. You could make the further argument that there are so many stories and wild tales about the man’s history that it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction.