For some, the glitz and glamour of a night at the casino is quite simply irresistible, and from blackjack to baccarat, the games that are played and loved in the most iconic establishments around the world have become synonymous with luxury and opulence.
The smart dress codes, professional croupiers and lavish interiors you’ll find at the finest venues have certainly had a role to play in propelling high-end casinos to the height of exclusivity, and so too have the latest slots games – but one game stands out as having truly taken the world by storm and cemented these money-spinning hotspots as the places to be for the rich and famous.
While roulette and other popular games have undoubtedly contributed, no game holds quite the same sense of intrigue as poker – a game that requires skill, strategy, and that all-important poker face to pull off the biggest of jackpot wins.
Appearing in Hollywood blockbusters like 2006 James Bond flick Casino Royale, and 2012 Brad Pitt and George Clooney smash hit Ocean’s Eleven, this high-stakes game has long been associated with nerve-wracking tension and huge financial wins and loses – but interestingly, its high-brow reputation doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to the game’s history.
Here, we take a look at how poker’s unique charm became what it is today.
The story of poker begins long before the American Old West. It’s believed to have originated in China during the 10th century or, perhaps, as a derivative of a Persian game known as “nas” in the 16th century, before making its way to France in the 17th century and gradually spreading to Canada and then the United States, where it became a defining element of the Old West.
It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the game made its debut in the United Kingdom, with General Schenck, the American ambassador to Britain, playing a pivotal role in introducing poker to British society through a letter that evolved into a booklet and contributed to the game’s initial exposure in the UK in 1872.
Off to a slow start
Despite its global popularity, poker wasn’t initially the big hit in the UK that it is today, with many Britons continuing to prefer traditional card games like rummy, cribbage, and brag. But the similarities between poker and brag, such as “taking in” or drawing cards, played a role in gradually winning over British card enthusiasts.
In the mid-20th century, the game suffered from a less-than-stellar reputation. Some major casinos didn’t offer poker tables, so at that time, it was primarily associated with illicit, unlicensed gaming halls. Poker was regarded as a game for shady characters, and by the 1970s, it had largely faded into obscurity – so it’s hard to believe that it would eventually go on to become the immensely popular game it is today.
But, its fortunes changed in the latter part of the 20th century, when television played a significant role in its revival with the introduction of “Late Night Poker” in 1999. The series showcased professional players and celebrities playing poker, and began to cement its association with the glitz, glamour and luxury it is so synonymous with today, boosting poker’s reputation and appeal among the British public and making it the sought-after casino game affluent players and high-rollers alike were queuing up to play.
The highlight of British casinos
Today, poker is deeply entrenched in British culture, and is a favourite pastime of the rich and famous, who wager eye-watering sums of money on single games and at times, walk away with huge jackpot wins. Such has been the game’s meteoric rise to popularity that it is now not unusual to come across poker tournaments on television, or ads for the game in high-end glossy magazines, and of course, regular articles about the latest poker trends online. One of its most notable moments in recent years was when the largest poker game in history was hosted in the UK in June 2013, with the massive tournament, held in Onchan, Isle of Man, featuring 225,000 players competing for a $25,000 top prize, with just a $1 buy-in.
Set foot inside one of the world’s most iconic casinos, and you can guarantee there will be a full poker table, and a queue of other big-spending adrenaline-seekers waiting for their chance to get in on a slice of the action. So highly sought-after has the game become that most luxury casinos now offer exclusive poker rooms reserved only for the highest-rolling players, where you might regularly find astronomical sums of money being put down. The unwavering confidence of the players is evident in their well-practiced poker faces, and for some, it well and truly pays off.
In 2023, poker is a cherished part of the British lifestyle and is celebrated, enjoyed, and embraced amongst affluent casino clientele. The charm of poker has found a home in the United Kingdom, and it’s undoubtedly here to stay.
Please gamble responsibly (18+ UK) – check age restrictions before participating