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Poker Cities

Las Vegas
Las Vegas in Nevada seems to be very unlikely place to be the gambling capital of the world. You could say that Las Vegas was founded in the early 19th century when it was ideal place for wagon trains to stop and rest as they made their way along the old Spanish Trail between Santa Fe and Los Angeles. At that time they did not seem to have good prospects. In 1905 Las Vegas’ fortunes changed with the arrival of the Union Pacific railway but it was only after the 1920s and 1930s that the boom in Las Vegas really began. Really it was the building of the Hoover Dam with its 3 1/2 thousand workforce which provided much of the cash which would be eventually pouring into the games of poker which flourished all around.

In 1931, gaming was legalised in Las Vegas and it soon became known as the home of all-night gambling. Many individuals came to Las Vegas from other cities with their knowledge of the casino industry to start a gambling clubs and of course eventually gangsters such as Bugsy Siegel were also attracted to this booming city. Although the post war depression of the late 40s forced casinos into a damaging price war, this was finally resolved with an agreement to standardise odds and an agreement to fix limits and after this Las Vegas never really looked back.

New Orleans
One could say that poker was born in New Orleans during the early 19th century and that it grew more rapidly here particularly in the area known as the swamp (the New Orleans waterfront) than in any other city or town in North America. At that time commercial gambling was permitted and there was said to be more gambling venues in New Orleans than in any other American city.

This was the time of the professional card sharps who frequented the New Orleans and Mississippi river boats and in particular in the swamp the gambling was rife. Most of these card ‘dens’ were not on the level and many scams were practised by unscrupulous conmen. In fact many of the card sharps victims were the boatmen who travelled the Mississippi River on cargo rafts headed for New Orleans.

Cincinnati
Even before the American Civil War, poker was the main card game played in Cincinnati. Less than honest riverboat gamblers operated in the poker rooms which were housed in almost every saloon in town. The Burnet house, later dubbed by the Illustrated London News as ‘the best hotel in the world’ was the place where the biggest poker games in town were played. This was the same place incidentally which later became famous as the place where Ulysses S. Grant and William Sherman plotted their famous ‘March to the Sea’

The original Palace Hotel in San Francisco
Engraved illustration of the original Palace Hotel in San Francisco

San Francisco
After the goldrush in the mid 19th century, some of the biggest games of poker ever played took place in San Francisco. At that time many private poker rooms opened in the city and probably the most famous of them was known as the Cinch room in the Palace hotel. This was said to be: “richly equipped with innumerable brass spittoons”.

Almost a dozen of the richest men in the West took part in these great battles. Among these were such names as James C Flood, one of the original owners of the fabulous big bonanza mine in Nevada, and four senators — John Percival Jones, James G. Fair, William M. Stewart and William Sharon, all of whom had made their fortunes buying and selling shares in the mining trade.

The stakes that these men played for are probably some of the highest in poker history — it is said that a pot of $100,000 was not unusual and of course today this would be the equivalent of several million dollars. 

Atlantic city
In 1976, the state of New Jersey decided to heavily develop the rundown coastal resort of Atlantic City and by the mid-80s many huge gambling palaces had been built. However the main attraction at that time was the slot machines rather than poker. By the mid-90s many of these large casinos had gone bust and the future of Atlantic City as a gambling centre is uncertain particularly due to the personal feud between Donald Trump and Steve Wynn.

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