FAMOUS GAMBLERS … there are many tales and legends concerning famous gamblers, some of them taking us back centuries. Many of these are strange though true, whilst others are somewhat questionable!
We start off with the famous gamblers Emperor Julius Caesar and his friend Mark Anthony, who were avid gamblers and spent much time betting on cockfights and playing dice.
Another of the famous gamblers or the roman era Emperor Claudius, was an obsessive dice player who even had the inside of his carriage reconstructed so that he could play dice while travelling. The Roman dramatist, Seneca, did a skit on the death of Claudius; showing him in hell forever condemned to shaking dice in a cup without a bottom!
Two other famous gamblers and Roman emperors who were equally obsessive and that loved to gamble were Nero and Caligula who bet sums of up to 400 000 sesterii (+-$50,000) on a single throw of the dice. Caligula recouped his losses by arresting or executing his wealthy subjects and confiscating their wealth!
Henry VII was well-known for his love of gambling, a pastime at odds with his image as a miserly king. Today, we can look at the carefully-maintained Privy Purse Accounts to see the amounts Tudor royalty lost at cards. Though even royalty was not supposed to gamble during certain religious holidays, neither Henry VII, or his son obeyed that rule. Henry VIII was particularly bad at the game primero.
King Henry V111 of England rivalled the Roman Emperors in gambling addiction and excesses by actually managing to lose the church bells from the City of London!!
Famous Gamblers of the Wild West
Many famous gamblers are found amongst the legends of the Wild West and not least was the Marshall Wyatt Earp. He was the part owner of a gambling house in tombstone, Arizona and his card playing skills considerably boosted his marshal’s salary.
Wild Bill Hickok one of the most famous gamblers of all time, actually died while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota. He was shot in the head from behind whilst he was sitting with his back to the door by an assassin hired by crooked gamblers. They were afraid that his being elected sheriff would put paid to their illegal dealings. At the time of his death, Hickok was holding a pair of eights and a pair of aces. This hand has since famously been known as the “dead man’s hand”.
The following famous gamblers all knew each other from the boom towns: Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Poker Alice, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Lottie Deno, Bob Ford, Moustache Maude, Doc Holliday, and Big Nose Kate Elder. The number of movies that have been made about this bunch is amazing. Over Fifty-five of America’s best-known actors have played both Wyatt and Doc.
Poker Alice shot one man who accused a boyfriend of cheating and killed another later. Lottie killed a man who swindled her with both barrels of a shotgun. Doc killed one man who grabbed his chips, and another who looked at the discards.
Most of the famous lady gamblers of this era used high fashion as a trademark, all carried guns, and used them! Lottie Deno was the role model used for Miss Kitty in the movie Gun smoke. Elizabeth Taylor played Poker Alice and Doris Day is just one of many to play Calamity Jane.
Doc, Wyatt, Bat, and Luke Short were all famous gamblers, gunfighters, gambling house owners and close friends. Several of these gamblers were involved in pimping, including Wyatt Earp and his brother, Poker Alice, and Moustache Maude. Wild Bill’s pal Calamity Jane was a famous gambler and poker player and sometime whore. Doc’s long-term lady, Kate Elder, was a whore. When Doc killed someone and was jailed, Kate set fire to the jail and then held the jailers at bay with pistols in both hands.
Famous Gamblers of 18th – 20th Century
By contrast, we look at the elegant salons of 18th century European society and here we find the famous lover, Casanova, who was also a famous gambler. In fact gambling was his living! He won more than he lost, plunging from riches into poverty regularly throughout his gaming career.
The famous UK gambler and dandy, Beau Brummel, belonged to Whites and Brooks London gaming clubs where he regularly gambled for high stakes. Another member of Whites Club named Bligh was a suicidal schizophrenic and was playing at the same table as Beau Brummel one evening. Brummel after losing 1000 guineas pretended to be absolutely distraught and called to the waiter to bring him a candlestick and a pistol so that he could “light his way to death.” Bligh calmly took two loaded pistols from his coat pockets. He presented them to Brummel saying,” Mr. Brummel, if you are really serious to put a period to your existence, I am happy to offer you the means without you troubling the waiter!”
Brummel’s gambling eventually ruined him financially. At the age of 62 he died in a madhouse. The change in his fortunes was blamed on the loss of his lucky charm (a coin with a hole in it) which he had given out in error to a hackney coachman.
The wealthy British store owner, Gordon Selfridge, was not an addicted gambler himself, but his protégés, the famous gamblers, the Dolly Sisters, were true gamblers – in every sense of the word, mostly using Selfridge’s money!
The Dolly sisters were cabaret artists and were seen performing by Selfridge who then invited them to visit him at his villa in Deauville. Their visit lasted nearly a quarter of a century during which time these two famous gamblers managed to gamble away $8,000,000.00 of his fortune! On one particular occasion, whilst playing a game of baccarat, they lost the equivalent of 10.000 pounds. Selfridge sent them diamonds “to compensate for your losses my darlings!” However his money was not limitless, and at the age of 83 he went bankrupt.
Nick the Greek Danadalos, another famous gambler also known as the “King of Gamblers” won more than $50,000,000.00 during his lifetime. In 1949, in a Las Vegas casino, he played poker against his arch rival Johnny Moss. The game lasted five months with breaks every four or five days for sleep. At one point during the game, Nick won $1,000,000.00 in a single hand but eventually fortune smiled on Moss and Nick reportedly lost$2,000,000.00. Nick’s reign as “King of the Gamblers” was over and he ended his playing days in Californian bars playing $5 poker games.
Perhaps the most well-known names in 20th Century European Gambling circuit belonged to a group known as “The Greek Syndicate”. The group consisted of five members: Eli Eliopulo (Greek), Nicolas Zographos (Greek), Athanase Vagliano (Greek), Zanet Couyoumdjian (Armenian), and Francois Andre (French). They regularly played against some of the World’s richest men, such as the Aga Kahn, the Baron Henri de Rothschild and the ex-king Farouk of Egypt.
Each member of the syndicate ended his gambling career far richer that when he started out and this was largely due to the gambling abilities of Nico Zographos. He mastered the mathematics of gambling and combined with his incredible memory (he could remember every single playing card throughout a game of baccarat) he made a formidable opponent.
Although all the original famous gambler members of the syndicate are now dead, it still exists today and still achieves more consistent success than any comparable group in Europe.
Modern Day Famous Gamblers
LIZ LIEU – One of Pokers hottest current lady players.
AMARILLO SLIM PRESTON – The first celebrity poker player and a famous gambler.
ANNIE DUKE – She is one of the modern day famous gamblers and is considered the Best “All Round” Lady poker players.
DOYLE “TEXAS DOLLY” BRUNSON – He is a famous gambler and the best known legend of poker.
Another of the modern day most famous gamblers although existing only on the silver screen is the famous “James Bond – 007”, who famously plays Baccarat and Texas Holdem Poker.
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