Poker didn’t originate in the United States, but the country definitely made it its own. No one is entirely sure where exactly the game originated – there are forms of it that can be traced back to China, France and Persia – but it really developed into the game we know today in early nineteenth century America. Brought over by immigrants, the game of poker was an instant hit, and when the first casino was opened in New Orleans, poker was the main attraction. Over the years different versions evolved, with Texas Hold ‘Em emerging as the eventual favourite, but others like Omaha and Caribbean Stud are still played the world over as well.
Part of the reason why poker remains so popular in America is the growth of online poker. Whereas previously, players would often have to travel to visit legal casinos, online poker brought the game into people’s homes and pockets. Having the ability to play at the touch of a button, with instant deposits and quick withdrawals, made poker once again accessible to the masses. Online casinos have come and gone, with many who did great business during the poker boom, like Absolute Poker and Full Tilt, no longer operating. But there are many other successful sites offering online poker that are still around.
One of the biggest issues for online casinos wanting to open their doors to the US gambling market, is that online gambling in America has existed in a rather grey area. While neither explicitly legalised nor forbidden, the casinos were mostly able to operate freely. However, recent attempts to legalise online gambling have been making headway, with many states including New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware taking the plunge and officially decriminalising online poker. This has been a huge breakthrough for the game, and many see this is as the first steps towards reforming America’s views on gambling as a whole. While it is unlikely that all fifty states are going to come to a consensus soon, the devolution of powers that allows each state to make their own decisions on some issues, like drinking age and gambling legislation, could mean that more states follow suit, especially after seeing how popular the decision has been in those states which have legalised gambling.
Poker had a good few decades of success before the US started to impose anti-gambling laws across most of the states. While this might have stifled poker’s rise in online poker rooms, although residents didn’t struggle to play at offshore sites. It also didn’t stop the much-loved game from moving underground or into more casual realms. Players would play with friends for fun, with games hosted at home or in the backrooms of bars. And there were still pockets all over the country that managed to keep legal gambling alive, with poker tourists flocking from all over to play.
And then in 2003 came the US poker boom. A combination of increased awareness through television and internet coverage, greater access to qualifying routes, and the excitement of amateurs winning big prizes – like when Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event $2.5 million jackpot – thrust poker out of the shadows and turned it into a mainstream hobby. The boom only lasted a few years, but it cemented poker’s place as part of American culture.
In some ways, poker is the perfect game for America, as so many of its values echo the American Dream ideal. The poker table is a great equaliser – it doesn’t matter if you are a student, a banker, a nurse, or a construction worker; at the poker table you’re judged on your skills alone. And has been proved in the past, anyone is capable of making money from the game, if they work hard at it. This is a sentiment that is often portrayed in popular culture, with poker frequently popping up in movies and tv shows. Films like Rounders and Molly’s Game show some of the big figures that can end up on a poker table, making it seem an exciting prospect. In fact, internet searches for how to be a professional poker player have never been higher.
The future for poker in the US is still up in the air, at least where the legalities of online play are concerned. What is not up for debate is the popularity which the game still commands. Even if you don’t play, poker is so well known that it’s possible to understand the gameplay as depicted in films and on tv, in much the same way that non-sports fans can still enjoy the tension and excitement created by sport in movies. All that’s left now is for the states to make their final decisions on legalisation; a move which could see poker return to centre stage where it belongs.