Political figures with surprising connections to casino games

There are a lot of gamers in politics, even among those who proudly advocate against casinos and other gaming establishments. From George Washington to Joseph Stalin, many political figures played various games of chance. While some preferred popular card games like blackjack and poker, others enjoyed more obscure games like fou-rouge (the ancestor of roulette) or passed their time shooting dice. Read on to learn more about gamers in politics!

Richard Nixon

The 37th President of the US impressed everyone by winning a place in the National Spades tournament, which was held in the Sheraton-Coronet Hotel in 1967. The tourney had five sections depending on players’ skills; Nixon won one of them, thereby earning the right to play against the best player. Though he lost that match, his performance looked quite promising. Later, he admitted bragging about his skill to Robert F. Kennedy, who replied he could beat him. The two never got a chance to prove their worth since they were on friendly terms.

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But bridge was not the only game of cards the politician was good at. According to Spiro T. Agnew, the 39th Vice President of the United States, it was impossible to find someone who could beat Richard Nixon in poker. Agnew was confident in his own poker skills, but avoided competing against the President.

John F. Kennedy

One of the most intriguing presidential anecdotes is associated with JFK: according to the legend, Camp David, the President’s weekend and vacation house, had a tunnel constructed to link two buildings undetected. The tunnel was allegedly needed so that the President could get from one building to another without being intercepted by Richard Nixon, with whom he played high-stakes poker and who beat him senseless. Historians have long tried to either prove or disprove this legendary story, but all in vain. We may never know whether JFK really got a tunnel built or whether he was defeated by Nixon at poker (although the latter is confirmed by several sources). However, we do know that Kennedy was crazy about cards and often visited Bingham's Wharf in Georgetown, where he played poker for money. By the way, Kennedy was so skilled at blind bidding during real estate transactions that many people believed he was using inside information.

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Warren G. Harding

This President loved playing marbles as an adult. Although this pastime became popular amongst children, hardstone marble games were initially very popular amongst adults and men would often wager and play for money. It is even known what kinds of marbles President Harding liked: he was partial to white carnival glass marbles with golden stripes.

Ralph K. Winter

Vice Admiral of the United States Navy Reserve and United States Senator from Connecticut, Ralph K. Winter used to be a big fan of keno. In fact, he was so keen on this lottery-like game usually offered at casinos and sometimes at bars and taverns that established the Ralph Winter Keno Research Fund aimed at supporting research into aging, chronic disease, and their underlying mechanisms.

William F. Buckley Jr.

A conservative commentator, novelist, and politician, Buckley enjoyed playing chess so much that he even wrote a book titled More About Chess. He learned how to play when he was eleven and remained a passionate chess player throughout his life.

Herman Badillo

A Republican congressman and Resident Representative from Puerto Rico, Herman Badillo was a big fan of scratchies. Despite his efforts to legalize and regulate gambling in his state, he was opposed by the Catholic Church and ultimately failed to accomplish his goal.

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James G. Ashby

A member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Ashby was arrested in 1994 after demanding a $50,000 kickback from some people who owned a slot machine establishment. Although he argued that it had been a setup orchestrated by the FBI, Ashby eventually pleaded guilty and resigned from parliament.

Chuck Patel

An American businessman and politician, Patal is the founder of the Oregon Lottery and a co-founder of Ameristar Casinos. As you may guess, he has no objections to gambling.

James Zumwalt

A retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and conservation author, Zumwald was also a casino dealer. Having worked as a croupier to earn extra money, the man says he learnt a great deal about human nature during those four years he spent dealing at a Indian casino.

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Allen Bloom

Bloom, a Nevada politician, once joked that the only reason why people re-elected him was because they mistook him for someone else. This someone else was a gambler who had racked up huge debts to local Las Vegas casinos and was frequently seen there accompanied by beautiful women.

Alan Malcolm Bible

In 1954, Bible, who served three terms as Lieutenant Governor of Nevada, introduced a bill aimed at legalizing prostitution in the state. Bible explained that if the authorities didn’t legalize and control this practice, men would resort to committing immoral acts such as adultery, assault, theft, and burglary in order to achieve the same goals as they came looking for in houses of ill fame. As weird as it may sound, the legislature actually agreed with Bible. However, the brothels were banned from selling alcoholic beverages and using gambling as a means of making extra bucks. By the way, Bible was a lifelong bachelor.

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Bob Coffey

A Pennsylvania politician who served as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Coffey was a compulsive gambler. Having piled up large debts to Las Vegas casinos, he committed suicide in 1989 by jumping out of a window of his office building.

Howard Cannon

A United States Senator from Nevada from 1959 until his death in 1982, Cannon was closely linked with the state’s gambling industry. Being a lawyer, he helped found the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Three years before his demise, the senator was diagnosed with lung cancer despite the fact that he had never smoked in his life. Later, it turned out that the man had been exposed to radon gas in his home. To draw public attention to this health hazard, the Howard Cannon Medical Trust was created by his wife and friends.

John Connelly

Connelly, a former Congressman from Texas, spent years in politics racking up huge gambling debts. To cover them up, the man committed suicides in 1993 and 1995. The first time, he shot himself in the head but survived; a year later, he succeeded in taking his own life.

Pete Domenici

A United States Senator from New Mexico, Domenici was a big fan of betting on horses and slot machines. Along with Alan Bible, he was one of the lawmakers who drafted the bill legalizing gambling and prostitution in Nevada.

LeRoy Greiner

In 1983, California State Senator LeRoy Greiner was accused of accepting a $50,000 bribe in return for promoting bills beneficial for a developer who planned to build a hotel and a couple of casinos near the Los Angeles Stadium. The politician was even recorded on tape admitting he had accepted the money. Nevertheless, the case ended in a deadlock because the person who had given the senator the money refused to testify in court. Eventually, Greiner was cleared of all charges and continued his political career.

Stephen D. Mitchell

Being a state senator, Mitchell earned some easy money by working as a dealer at local casinos. However, this source of income dried up because the state legislature prohibited its members and employees from having any connection with gambling facilities.

Frank N. Maguire

Maguire, a South Carolina politician and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was addicted to gambling. In 1958, he was caught cheating at a casino in West Virginia; the politician was banned from the venue and his winnings were confiscated.

Michael O. Leavitt

While serving as the Governor of Utah, Leavitt played slots but never won anything. However, the politican drew national attention because he actually played these one-armed bandits although Utah is a dry state with very restrictive gambling laws. Commenting on the incident, Leavitt said he had made a mistake and wouldn’t do it again.

Harry Reid

A well-known American politician, Reid was Majority Leader of the Senate for many years. Like many other political figures, he hated to lose and was quite persistent when it came to dominoes. Once he got into a fight over the results of a game and injured the opponent’s pinky so severely that this guy had to undergo surgery.

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Edward J. Schwartz

Schwartz, a candidate for the US Senate from Ohio, committed suicide in 1994. His body was found in a rented DC room alongside several thousand dollars, airline tickets, and a list of Senate offices. Prior to his demise, the politician had accumulated huge gambling debts.

Robert F. Wagner Sr.

During one of his trips to Cuba, the New York Mayor played dice with Fidel Castro. Wagner won, and Castro paid his debt and treated him to dinner.

Jeffrey Pederson

Wisconsin State Senator Jeffrey Pederson killed himself in March 2009 by jumping off a Las Vegas casino parking lot. According to the police, the politician’s gambling debts had nothing to do with his suicide, although he and his wife had borrowed half a million dollars from a Las Vegas casino.

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Raymond E. Padgett

In 1989, North Carolina Senator Ray Padgett died while playing a penny slot machine in a Washington hotel. The 75-year-old politician spinned the reels for almost three hours straight and passed away probably because of deferred medical treatment he had neglected because he wanted to spend more time playing.

Dean Skelos

Skelos, a New York politician, was a fan of video poker and slot machines. In 2015, he was sentenced to five years in prison on federal corruption charges.

Randall Tobias

In 2007, Deputy Director of USAID and Under Secretary of State for Management Randall L. Tobias quit his post after it had been revealed that he had done business with persons on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list and failed to pay taxes on payments received for appearing on three gambling information websites.

As you see, gambling has always been in fashion and will remain trendy regardless of whether a particular type of entertainment is banned or not. By the way, have you heard any recent stories related to gambling among politicians? Please share with other readers in the comments! And don’t forget to estimate this article using a star rating system below.