July 11, 2024

Exploring Poker’s United States Origins

3 min read

Poker is one of the world’s most popular games played the world over.

Recently, the World Series of Poker ended in Vegas with a whopping $10m top prize for the victor in the Main Event. It’s been the pinnacle of the poker world ever since it was highlighted in the film Rounders, which sparked the poker boom.

If that last sentence made little sense to you, it could be because you’re not up to speed with the history of poker and how engrained in US culture it is. The US has more online and offline regulations on poker than almost any other country, yet it has been an important part of our culture for hundreds of years.

Did you know all of that? If not, you need to brush up on your poker knowledge; here’s how it has penetrated America’s consciousness throughout history.


The card game that eventually became known as poker was played back in the 15th Century in Europe but made its way across the Atlantic just after the Civil War. The origins of poker in the United States can be traced to the parlors of New Orleans around 1829, making it almost 200 years old. It came over here around the time of the Louisiana Purchase when the United States purchased land from the French First Republic. At that time, the two cultures came together, and poque was passed on. It eventually found its way across the southern states to the west.

Wild West

The game travelled along the Mississippi on river boats and became a favorite in saloons and small towns. It also evolved to incorporate a 52-card deck and soon became part of Wild West legend. For instance, Wild Bill Hickok was playing poker when he was shot dead in Deadwood, holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights. That became known as the Dead Man’s Hand, part of poker terminology today. There was also the world’s longest poker game, which took place at The Birdcage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona, which is still the subject of a display to this day. You can also find the origins of the variant Texas Hold ‘em here; it is believed to have been developed in Robstown, Texas.

Poker Boom

Texas Hold’em came to the World Series of Poker in 1971, and it helped rive poker’s popularity. However, it wasn’t until the end of the century that things really kicked off. Matt Damon starred in a film called Rounders, which told the tale of a poker player who targeted the World Series of Poker in the final credits. A monologue explained how the top prize was $1m, and three years later, an average Joe had won it. Chris Moneymaker qualified for the 2003 World Series of Poker online and went all the way to the final, bagging the top prize. It sparked what was known as the poker boom, where players across the States began to play online, hoping to emulate Moneymaker’s success. That influenced the whole world; poker just exploded in popularity.

In 2011, regulators closed down several of the top providers in what is known as the Black Friday event, cutting poker down as it spread across the United States. It was the first major setback for poker in almost 200 years.


Today, the landscape is changing once again. The World Series of Poker shows no signs of slowing down; the prize is now ten times what it was at the turn of the century, with more players and viewers than ever before. Online poker has become regulated and much more stringently monitored; at present, only five states offer live money games. There are states planning bills to legalize it further, and the game is still played in casinos across the land.

Not bad for a humble card game once played in a single city in the United States.

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