There is much debate over the origin of poker. Most game historians say that it comes from an eighteenth-century French game, poque. However, there are other references to pochspiel, a German game, the Hindu word, pukka the Indian game ganjifa and a 16th century Persian card game known as As Nas The origins of the diamonds, clubs, spades and hearts though are contributed to the French game poque.
Jonathan H. Green makes one of the earliest written references to Poker in the year 1834. In his writing, Green describes rules that allude to a “cheating game,” which at that time, was being played on Mississippi riverboats. Green recognized that his was the first reference to such a game, and since it was not referenced in the current American Hoyle, he took it upon himself to call the game Poker.
Poker in the United States was first widely played in New Orleans by French settlers in the early 1800’s. This poker game was similar to the ‘draw poker’ game we play today. New Orleans evolved as America’s first gambling city as riverboat men, plantation owners and farmers avidly pursued the betting sport.
From the riverboats, the game migrated via wagon and train routes. As it traveled, new games such as stud, draw and the straight poker became popular. The Civil War saw the introduction of stud poker, the draw and the straight, and the joker made an appearance as a wild card. Europeans added the joker sometime around 1875 and wild cards were born.
At the conclusion of the Civil War, America pushed west. Gambling was a popular pastime for these rough pioneers of the frontier. In virtually every town a poker table could soon be found in the saloons.
It was also during the late 1800s that many towns and states fed up with the gamblers wild antics, began to enact new laws against gambling. At first, anti-gaming laws had little real effect on gambling, as they were difficult to enforce and penalties were light.
The laws were gradually strengthened and ironically, Nevada was one of the first states in the West to totally make gambling illegal in 1909. Other states soon followed suit and gangsters combined liquor and gambling in the cities of New York, Cleveland and Chicago during the 1920s.
In 1931, Nevada relaxed its gambling laws and casinos once more began to prosper. By 1939 there were six casinos and sixteen saloons in Las Vegas. Now with the advent of the automobile, Las Vegas began to boom into the gambling Mecca it is today.