U.S. Presidents Who Gambled, Won, and Lost

You want to learn the rules in politics? According to Hoyle, you should start with a game of poker. It’s how Barack Obama cleared away all those cards stacked against him and made his way through the cronyism web of Chicago politics to the presidential seat. He did it in the proud tradition of most American Commanders in Chief, as the history books will demonstrate.

Splashed with anecdotal ink and honest testimonies about presidential gambling addictions, unwise bets, or memorable bluffs, the stories of US presidents who moonlighted as gamblers read as wild cards or jokers in the clean, manicured pack of history.

A few examples come to mind. Andrew Jackson had such a lousy hand at poker one night that he made it home to his First Lady only in his underwear. Earlier on, Thomas Jefferson had been publicly accusing the lotteries as the origin of all the sins committed by his fellow American citizens. His hobby was playing pool for money.

Top 5 American Presidents Who Held All the Cards, Trump Card Included

1.      Warren G. Harding

Hardly a badge of honor in America’s presidential pantheon, Warren Harding was as much a poor poker player as an ineffective president. The anecdote of the old presidential china set that dated back to the administration of Benjamin Harrison and that his successor in time, Harding had gambled away on a single hand still makes the rounds of the White House today.

At the time, Harding’s cabinet was endearingly called the “poker cabinet”, and the POTUS himself, although humble in admitting he had no clue about how to manage a country or inflation, behaved as cocky as a king of spades while at the green felt table.

A bit out of his depth on the supreme seat in the White House, Harding was absent-minded enough to get himself embroiled in the scandals of his cronies- a Secretary of Interior building himself riches out of the illegal transactions of national oil reserves or rampant bribe among the higher echelons of officials.

2.      Richard Nixon

Before President Nixon came to be billed “Tricky Dick”, casino owner Dick was nicknamed “Sneaky Ricky”.

That’s right, the US Commander-in-Chief who would later stir the waters in Washington to tsunami levels funded his first election campaign with the money he had made out of drunken sailors and WWII Navy personnel who called port in his shady gambling establishment “Nick’s” in the South Pacific.

Nixon was 29 at the time, but already a self-taught entrepreneur with a sixth sense for exploiting the weakness of men, despite his upbringing in a Quaker community.

History has it that the future-to-be president had previously made contact with the world of gambling while working at the wheel of fortune at a carnival in Prescott, Arizona. To his credit, Nixon was no Harding.

While he did his country proud by keeping the folks at home safe from his bar in the Melanesian Islands, Iron Butt even refused an invitation to dinner with Charles Lindbergh to improve his high-stakes poker play and master his bluffs. If anything, no one could accuse him of not succeeding in that.

His lucky hand would secure him $10,000 by the end of the war. That’s the equivalent of $102,000 today.

3.      Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower

If a poker game makes all men equal (more so than the Bill of Rights, it could be the round table that acts as the great equalizer) than good ol’ Ike here made a great example of it.

The votes were cast and anyone who had faced the 34th president of the US in poker battle could attest for his skill, and more so the soldier whom Eisenhower saved from bankruptcy and possible divorce. The story unfolds like this.

While Eisenhower was serving in the military as a general during WWII, he played regularly with Colonel George Patton, but made it a rule to restrict the game to “married men who could afford to lose.”

At one point, one soldier who didn’t stick to the criteria managed to squeeze in and, what’s more, foolishly lose all his money and the war bonds that his wife had saved for dark days.

Eisenhower took charge of the situation- and his rank- and conspired with the other players to collectively lose the following night to the unlucky soldier.

If President Dwight was a card shark, he proved that the game doesn’t have to be a bloody battlefield. Moreover, his winnings were invested into gifts to court his future First Lady. Now, that’s a romantic hustler.

4.      Franklin D.Roosevelt

If Eisenhower didn’t raise the stakes on the high platform of his position, Roosevelt did. When he hosted a game of stud poker (his favorite) in the last hours of a Congressional session, he made himself the winner of the night by sheer cunningness and presidential je ne m’en fiche.

Franklin D.Roosevelt is reported to have employed poker at length as therapy, a pastime to take his mind off the Wall Street Crash, the Dust Bowl, the rise of the Nazi party, and the European cry for help.

5.      Harry Truman

American presidents who had the misfortune to serve during WWII couldn’t ignore the pressing need for foreign aid in Europe.

In Truman’s administration, the reminder came to the shores of New Jersey in the penguin-sized frame of Winston Churchill, who delivered his historical “Iron Curtain” speech enforcing the blood alliance between the US and Great Britain following a game of poker with the American Fleet Street the night before.

The strategy certainly appealed to the gambler in Truman, since he further came to deliver a strong message to his war adversaries- the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Actually, the US President dealt and folded his cards more ferociously than ever whilst “Little Boy” was on its way to blow millions of people to smithereens.

Truman’s biographers came to his defense, explaining how the president found solace and calm in a game of poker. While his attitude was as laid-back and cool as a champ’s, Truman would also swing hard and engage in some extravagant gambling.

He didn’t hide this hobby, and he openly surrounded himself with the finest of the game’s paraphernalia- we only need to mention the custom-made seven-handed table he stacked his yacht with and a special set of chips engraved with the Presidential seal.

American presidents are born to gamble. If you feel like they’re making a bet on your life, you could return the favor. You have plenty of dead presidents in your wallet to serve you for a lucky hand at a game of poker or a spin of the pokies.

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