Famous (and Unexpected) Gamblers through History, Part 1

Famous (and Unexpected) Gamblers through History, Part 1

Although the card shark has firmly established himself as a fixture in the mythology of the Wild West, we know that, generally, he was a no-good low-down dirty rotten scoundrel.

But what if we told you that one of history’s most powerful men was also not someone you’d want to see opposite you at a poker tournament? Here’s the first in our series of famous gamblers in history.

And this is an unexpected one. A man who ran a Wheel of Fortune game at his local carnival in his teens, back when gambling was even more closely regulated in the US than it is now; a man who set up a casino bar in the South Pacific during World War II; and a man who… later went on to become the President of the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Richard Nixon.

You Mean Tricky Dicky?

The man who would later be the first and only US president to resign was not from a very rich background, and his family (unluckily) suffered a few financial setbacks.

One such story goes as follows: his father wanted to buy some land to open a petrol station, but one piece of land which Nixon’s mother wanted to buy was rejected by his father. However, it later turned out to be on top of a lot of oil.

The Nixon family would have become incredibly wealthy had they bought the land when they had the chance. What makes it worse is that this was after they’d held on to some other land precisely because they thought it might have oil on it, but which turned out to be completely dry.

So it might be that his family’s bad fortune contributed to his ability to play poker, and play it very well. After running a Wheel of Fortune game at the Prescott, Arizona carnival, a game which was illegal in the state at the time, he enrolled in law school, where he developed a reputation for having an “iron butt,” or the ability to sit and study in the library for hours longer than his fellow students.

It was this skill, too, that helped him in his transformation into a card shark. He was able to sit for hours at the poker table, folding on hand after hand, before pouncing and claiming his victim and his winnings.

Nixon’s Iron Butt

I never thought I’d write this, but the iron butt of the future President of the United States made him a minor legend in the South Pacific during World War II. He enlisted in the Navy and was posted to the Solomon Islands, where he was in charge of air logistics.

In addition to his official duties, though, he also ran an illicit casino bar on the side. According to several biographies, he would play poker for hours on end, winning big sums off the unwitting and unfortunate sailors, soldiers, and airmen who decided to take him on at his own game.

Reports state that, although he received citations for meritorious service, Nixon’s primary focus was poker. In fact, he was so bent on winning money off his gullible brothers in arms that he preferred to play against them than have dinner with Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly non-stop across the Atlantic and one of history’s first media celebrities.

So that was Nixon. A hard-drinking, hard-living card shark, who lived on the edge and… became a US Congressman, Senator, Vice-President, and later, the President of the United States.

Calming Down and Sobering Up

After returning to the US, Nixon gave up his wild living, settled down, and lived a quiet unassuming life, until he was elected to the House of Representatives.

Further elected offices awaited him, and, as history has shown, he became a much-loved President who served his country with honesty, transparency, and…

Oh, hold on.


So, we have a boy, who ran a Wheel of Fortune game at a local fair, and whose parents missed out on several opportunities to make big cash, becoming a hard-working law student and later a hard-playing poker player, while on active duty in the South Pacific during World War II. After demobilization, he returned home, became a Congressman, Senator, and, eventually, the President, before being disgraced and forced to resign from office.

Bet you didn’t expect that of ol’ Tricky Dicky, did you?

Who’s Next?

So that’s the first in our series of unexpected gamblers through history. Make sure to check back in soon for the next in our series of unexpected gamblers through history.

And also visit us soon for all the latest casino bonuses, news updates, and video slots from around the gaming world.