Casino Life

Surprising Historical Figures Who Loved Gambling

Black and white image of people crowded around a roulette table

Whether you play at traditional or online casinos, you’ll know that the tables attract all kinds of people–even celebrities. These days, celebrities’ social media posts make it easy to know when they’re playing casino games or competing in a poker tournament. But what about the famous people from history who loved to gamble? They might not have been playing casino games online, posting their stats to Twitter, or streaming live dealer games to their laptops at home, but they certainly weren’t missing out on a chance to make their bets. 

While they might be better known for their professional pursuits than their steely poker faces or ruthless tactics, these historical figures simply loved to gamble.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was a 19th-century Russian novelist, philosopher, and journalist. A typical author, Dostoevsky based many of his books and essays on his personal experiences. He loved to gamble and found that it was a great source of motivation and inspiration. Add that to the fact that he had some serious gambling debts that he needed to pay off, and it’s no surprise that he ended up writing The Gambler, a rather dark novel focused on gambling addiction.

René Descartes

Born in France in 1596, René Descartes is known as the “Father of Modern Philosophy” and was also a respected scientist. You might not recognize the name immediately, but if you’ve ever heard the statement “I think, therefore I am”, then you know his work.

Rather than become a lawyer or join the military, a career as a professional gambler would have been first pick for Descartes  Fortunately, he found his calling as a philosopher, giving us plenty to think about. But he continued to gamble throughout his life, eventually writing “The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues” – no doubt in reference to his great love for making wagers.

Claude Monet

Oscar-Claude Monet was the founding father of French impressionism and one of the most prolific impressionists of his time. When starting out, Monet had no idea of how far his painting career would take him, but that changed when he got lucky in the lottery. In 1890, he won almost $15,000 in the French lottery, which meant he was able to quit his job and further explore his love for painting. So, lovers of Monet’s impressionist works have gambling to thank for helping make his career possible.

George Washington

George Washington on Mount Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota, USA.

So far we’ve had some historical Europeans who loved to gamble, but did you know that the first American president was a gambling man, too? George Washington, born February 22, 1732, was not only a massive fan of betting on racehorses, but he even bred his own ponies.

The bureaucratic betting trend doesn’t stop there, though; Washington found a gambling buddy in Thomas Jefferson. Although the term one-armed bandit had a completely different meaning back then, these two were known for their enthusiasm for a bit of bookmaking. From racehorses to more unusual events—frog and rat races to name two—Washington and Jefferson were all in on exciting wagers.

Wild Bill Hickok

Born James Butler Hickok, Wild Bill was a war hero straight out of the Old West. Not only is he famous for his life on the frontier and the many gunfights he was a part of, but also for being a prolific gambler. Hickok was fond of poker, particularly draw poker, and was known to pull his Colt and knife if he ever felt he was being scammed.

Hickok’s quick draw and skeptical eye, unfortunately, failed him in the end.  He met his maker after unsuspectingly joining a poker game with men who were conspiring to shoot and kill him. Despite his demise, Hickok’s memory lives on to this day when we refer to a pair of aces and a pair of eights as a“Dead Man’s Hand”, because this was the hand that Wild Bill said to have dropped as he fell from his chair.

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette was one of the most controversial female figures in all of history. Born on November 2, 1755, as Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, an archduchess of Austria, she later moved to France to marry Louis Auguste and become the queen of France when her husband ascended the throne.

Antoinette is remembered for her fondness of spending money on things like fashion, lavish parties, and gambling–even throwing a three-day-long party to mark her 21st birthday. Unfortunately, it was flamboyant displays of wealth like these that eventually led to the demise of the French royal family.

Doc Holliday

A notorious gambler, John Henry “Doc” Holliday’s appearance might be the least surprising on our list. But just how he came to be one of the most famous gamblers in history might be a bit more interesting. Doc started out as a dentist in Georgia, but things quickly changed after a string of tragedies altered his life.  

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Doc turned from a respectable dentist into one of the most notorious bandit outlaws of the 19th century. Although his condition started out mild, it worsened over time and prevented him from practicing dentistry. With all the free time on his hands, Doc found himself spending more time in saloons in Texas where he learned to play poker. The rest, as they say, is history.

Write your own gambling history with Borgata Online

While we may not all be remembered as great historical figures, we can still carve out our own gambling legacies. Make your mark in gambling’s history books and register with Borgata Online. We offer some of the best online casino games, including online poker, blackjack, roulette, and tons of online slots games, as well as our new online slots tournaments.

If you’d like to play online casino games on a mobile device, simply download our mobile casino games app. You never know, you might end up playing a few hands with the next big celebrity gambler.