Top 10 Historical Figures Who Loved Gambling

Written by Amanda Evans 0 minute read

Casino games are a pastime many people like to enjoy. Some of the biggest gamblers are etched in pop culture lore for their exploits. It's likely been this way since the dawn of time. In this article we take a look at the history of gambling and prominent figures from the past who also partook.


Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes

The Philosophical Gambler

Rene Descartes is recognized as the 'Father of Modern Philosophy,' but what you might not know about him is that he also dabbled in games of chance and has a gambling history that will fascinate you. The philosopher was not only known to be one of the best thinkers of his time but a good punter too.

During his time at the casinos, Descartes was known as one of the sharps through gambling history, winning on any table he would sit down to play. The great thinker did a lot to advance the discipline of philosophy as we know it today. Despite his exploits as a thinker, Descartes would always find time to take part in his favorite pastime, even coining the phrase 'The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues.' In one way or another, students of his work have thought of the phrase as an allusion to his openly known enjoyment at the tables.


Claude Monet

Claude Monet

The Lucky Gambler

Oscar-Claude Monet is considered one of the artists that revolutionized French impressionism but also has a gambling history. As part of the impressionists, Monet was one of the most prolific artists to bring this art style to the forefront. The artist started out with expert-level caricatures before he started painting in color. In a time when Paris was ripe for a cultural change, artists like Claude Monet presented French art lovers with a new approach to artistic expression.

Held as one of the best artists today, Monet was unsure about his budding career as he continued to hone his craft. However, fortunes turned when he won 1,000 francs on a lottery at a time when he did not have finances to speak of, and this is where his gambling history began. The amount was quite substantial, amounting to some $15,000 in current standards. This changed his situation from near financial ruin. With the win, the painter could now afford to quit his day job to focus on his painting. As a gambler, Monet was known to be an ardent fan of Chemin de Fer, which is a variation of the games of 21 generally known as Blackjack. Throughout his life, Monet was known to take time off by playing his favorite table games even though his only significant win only came through the lottery.


Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill Hickok

The Gun Totting Gambler

Wild Bill was born James Butler Hickok. He was known for his exploits in war and his gambling history. He was the classic hero of the Old West. He is not only remembered for his historic battles at the frontier but also his prolific talents on the casino floors as one of the most famous gamblers in the world. Wild Bill was an enthusiastic gambler who preferred poker over other table games. He recognized himself as one of the classic gamblers who would break into a fit pulling out his knife or gun when he felt cheated as gambling history speaks of a time when cheaters would be put to the sword immediately they were discovered. Wild Bill was known as a high roller who enjoyed being part of the >high-stakes games in the casino. This was because the gunslinger was also a really good player of draw poker and often won through his sharp skill.

Wild Bill would meet his demise playing the game he liked. As the story goes, Wild Bill would play his last game against a table of rivals whose plan was to get him in the game and have him killed. As was the tradition during the time, the men would confront him as the game wore on, escalating the confrontation to a shootout. Even after his demise, Hickok is remembered for what he achieved on the frontline and the poker table. In fact, we remember Wild Bill when we refer to a pair of eights and aces as a 'Dead Man's Hand' as this is the hand that Hickok is reported to have dropped from his hand as he fell from his seat at the table during the shootout.


George Washington

George Washington

History's Gambler in High Places

The first president of the US was an avid gambler, as gambling history shows. George Washington was known to be a fan of horse racing and even had his own stable of thoroughbred horses. George Washington enjoyed the thrill of the wager more than most and liked to try his luck whenever he could. The penchant for betting on horses was shared by his close friend Thomas Jefferson. The two were known to enjoy a good time at the bookmakers taking chances on all kinds of games.

Aside from the official betting options, the two gamblers would place bets on more outlandish game types like frog and rat races, as we found out while digging into gambling history. As two gamblers who would not back out of a good wager, the two made a name for themselves as two of the most enthusiastic characters about their wager no matter what they would play for.


Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Problem Gambler

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was a Russian novelist famed for his story-telling expertise during the 19th century. As a writer who recognized himself as being a classic writer, he found inspiration mostly from his personal life experiences. The novelist may be hailed as one of the best writers from Russia and a philosopher. However, you may not know of his gambling history, which was marred with issues. The author has penned books that show the contradictions that come with the human condition and the constant battle to find a middle ground between the emotional and rational aspects of life.

During his life, the writer was known to dabble in some gambling, even though more than he should have. Dostoevsky is reported to have gone bankrupt several times due to his love for roulette after making a few too many huge wagers. The worst aspect of the writer's gambling history and addiction is that he would cause his family financial distress when he would drag them into his gambling debt. Information on the writer's problem shows that Dostoevsky must have picked his problem from his father's obsession with affluence and status.

As a young individual, Fyodor would have ideas of power and affluence ingrained in him by his father. As a grown-up, the author thought of gambling as the only addiction that gave him the chance to get out of his sorry financial state even though the habit would only cause him more financial ruin. After making money from a translation and losing it all to gambling, the writer would make the ultimate mistake for gamblers by gambling on debt. Ironically, the writer would pen one of his most popular books, 'The Gambler,' to get himself out of debt drawing from his own experiences.


Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday

The Smartest Gambler of His Time

John 'Doc' Holliday is one of the Western Cowboys who was known officially as a gambler, gunfighter, and dentist. He was successful when playing poker and not only had success in gunfights but also on the poker tables. John taught himself to play poker like an expert at the saloons located around him at a very young age. Born in Griffin, Georgia, in 1851. John was brought up as an only child after his sister passed shortly before his birth. Doc was well educated and knew how to read and write.

After acquiring tuberculosis from his mother while attending to her during her sickness, the dentist was unable to continue with his dental practice as his sickness worsened. As such, he moved to the Southwest of the US in the hopes that the climate there would ease his symptoms. Upon moving to this part of the country, the dentist then adopted a career as a gambler, which at the time was viewed as a respectable vocation. After spending enough time in saloons in Texas, he grew into one of the most respected US casino gamblers of his time, winning windfalls in single sittings. The gun-totting card counter was also known for his exploits as he and others went on the famous Earp vendetta ride where he is reported to have shot at least three men dead. Even so, legends about the man have reported figures higher than this. The part of his legacy that is never disputed has to be about his gambling history.


Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

The Extravagant Gambler

Born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna in 1755, Maria Antoinette was the last queen of France before the French revolution. The young queen was known for what was described as 'notorious escapades' such as going to the ball incognito, riding sleighs, watching horse races, and hunting. While these were excusable for a young queen who was only in her early twenties when she ascended to the throne, the queen has other more serious problems to worry about. Gambling was one of the addictions the queen was reported to indulge in a bit more than was safe for her.

With a penchant for expensive items and the finer things in life, the queen would throw a party that lasted three days for her 21st birthday. This, as people thought, was nothing to be concerned about, even though such extravagant spending would be part of the downfall of the French royal family during the time of the revolution. The extravagant queen was known to lose money in the hundreds placing bets on the roulette table. During this time, women were not frowned upon at the casino floors. You would only receive a bad reputation and reception when you went to the gambling saloons and failed to pay your debts.


King Henry the VIII

King Henry the VIII

Number 1 Gamber in History

He is often thought of as the number one gambler in all of England and for a good reason too. King Henry was known to wager on a variety of games well-known in gambling history like; dice, Betting Queek, and Backgammon. Henry rose to the throne at a time when players in London were getting introduced to the three-card game known as 'Bragg' that many believe poker was derived from. King Henry enjoyed the game and also played 'Fox and Geese,' a game based on checkers. The two were the most popular games played at the time.

As a famous gambler with well-known achievements at the tables, Kind Henry did not only gamble for fun but also for money. Recognized as one of the high rollers of his time, the King is known to have taken some significant losses over his time gambling. It is reported that King Henry once lost the Jesus bells at the St. Paul Church after making a single bet that went sour. The bells were lost in a single dice toss. Sir Miles Partridge, who won the bells, was swiftly charged with treason and hung at Tower Hill for beating the King at the game. This is recognized as the biggest single loss ever recorded for gambling.


King Charles II

King Charles II

Biggest Gambler in the History of Gambling

King Charles II is lauded for having reestablished the English monarchy when he rose to power in 1660. The King was such an ardent gambling fan that he wrote about his experiences and gambling history. While the King was enthusiastic about the wager, it would not be right to depict him as a gambler who had a problem with the habit. What makes King Charles II as much of a good gambler as he was had to be the fact that he knew how to measure his wager and maneuver his enemies.

His alliance with Louis XIV after his successful French conques might be seen as a good example of this, even though this was later established to be arguably the worst political decision the King made. Many of the protestants under his rule viewed this as an alliance that threatened the protestant movement. In many ways, the King spent much of his time trying to win the favor of those who did not agree with the alliance. It also led to the third Anglo-Dutch war as many of the top Dutch casino players will know.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Gambling for Connections: No Wager Too Small

Many of the famous individuals that lived in the 18th and 19th centuries were prone to fall into gambling as this was thought of as one of the most obvious pastimes among people who could afford the occasional wager. We may know him for the prolific musician he was. Even so, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was also a successful and avid gambler. He was famous for indulging the lavish life and never making a compromise no matter what it was about. He often enjoyed raising the stakes and going on endless gambling marathons. Nevertheless, Mozart would not only gamble for the love of the game but also for the connections that came with it. As part of the aristocracy in Vienna, gambling history shows that all in the circle had an addiction. It was a shared trait that many among his friends did not look at as a problem - especially with the rising popularity of casinos in Austria.

Through his time as a gambler, Mozart would enjoy many successful times at the tables but also experienced his fair share of loss. In the time that he made the opera music we have all come to love, Mozart is also known to have enjoyed a relaxing time at the tables trying his hand in different games and winning on most times that he played. He is also reported to have frequented Gioachino Rossini's opera since it had a gambling saloon where high rollers would wager as they watched the show.

Regular gamblers and high rollers across the world are recognized as gamblers at heart and risk-takers who will do anything for the thrill of the wager. Throughout history, the best gamblers have always been those able to strike a balance between gambling and a shrewd calculated business approach to every situation in life. While many historical gamblers may have a story to make the typical gambler look like an amateur, it must also be said that their exploits often came at a great cost to them and their families as some would lose everything. Luckily these days there are no deposit bonuses and other ways to have fun without risking real cash.

 Amanda Evans
Written by
Amanda Evans - Chief Editor

Amanda has been involved with all aspects of the content creation at including research, planning, writing and editing. The dynamic environment has kept her engaged and continually learning which along with +15 years iGaming experience helped propel her into the Chief Editor role.

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