Happy Women’s History Month, ladies! As March is reserved for the history of womankind and the 8th of March is International Women’s Day, we thought we should take a few moments to look back on the history of gambling and how women of gambling impacted today’s gambling industry.
The Briefest Look Back on the Early Days of Gambling
Gambling is everything but new and throughout history its rules and regulations have changed drastically. You’ll find the first traces of gambling as far back as 4,500 years ago in various cultures, including Egypt, China, India, Greece and Rome. These activities gathered round old and young, rich and poor, women, men and even children.
While gambling may have started out as part of pagan religious rituals, it soon expanded to everyday life with people making important decisions based on the outcome of a game, much as they do today with, say, the flip of a coin.
In ancient Rome women were only allowed to gamble on Bona Dea, an exclusively women’s festival, whereas men could gamble both in their homes and in public whenever they pleased.
Now, saying that men and women had absolutely the same rights when it came to gambling would be a lie. Take ancient Rome for example; men could gamble both in their homes and in public places, whereas women were only allowed to gamble on Bona Dea, an exclusively women’s festival. Luckily, the rules changed under Emperor Nero and women were allowed to engage in various public games and sports.
The Notorious Faro Ladies
Fast forward to the 18th century when gambling in public was unacceptable for aristocratic ladies. While aristocratic men were allowed to play at social clubs, ladies who were partial to games had to do it in the privacy of their homes. Thus, a group of women became famous for hosting social gatherings where they would play faro, a once extremely popular card game, and were soon appropriately dubbed “Faro’s Daughters” or “Faro Ladies”. The most notorious among the Faro Ladies were Mrs. Albinia Hobart (later Lady Buckinghamshire), Lady Sarah Archer, Mrs. Sturt, Mrs. Concannon, and Lady Elizabeth Luttrell.
A group of women became famous for hosting social faro gatherings and were appropriately dubbed “Faro’s Daughters” or “Faro Ladies”.
After George III created the “Proclamation against Vice” in 1792 it was women, and not men, who were the target of critics not just because they were breaking the law – men did as well! – but because they were women.
Gambling Women of the Old West
Every time period had its lady gamblers for sure, but we’ll linger a bit on the good ol’ Wild West. When thinking of poker rooms in the Old West, you’re probably picturing a group of grubby men, whiskey by their side, gunshots, shouting, merry clamour, the whole deal.
Some poker women were just as notorious as male gamblers in the Wild West – just think of Poker Alice!
But gambling women were there, too! It wasn’t an everyday occurrence, sure, but it wasn’t illegal for a woman to gamble among men, either. Heck, some poker ladies were just as notorious as the famous male Wild West gamblers - Poker Alice, Kitty Leroy, Lottie Deno and Maria Gertrudis “Tules” Barceló, to name a few.
We’d love to go over each of the iconic Wild West women gamblers, but we’d probably be here all day, so let’s focus on just one: Poker Alice. Her real name was Alice Ivers and she gambled all over the West – from New Mexico and Arizona to Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and South Dakota. Alice even broke the bank in New Mexico, forcing the dealer to close the game! Ever heard of Deadwood, South Dakota? She was a legend there!
Thanks to Poker Alice’s inscrutable poker face, she often won as much as $6,000 in one night.
Poker Alice attracted a lot of male gamblers to the table and, thanks to her stellar deadpan expression – or poker face – she had an advantage that often lead her to winning as much as $6,000 in one night. Three husbands, a .38 revolver and her very own saloon – that’s what Poker Alice had (and then some)!
20th Century Las Vegas
20th century rolls in and gambling is still very much a male-dominated area. However, during the World War II when most male workers were shipped off overseas, it was women who filled the space. First Reno, then Las Vegas and female dealers were no longer a curiosity!
Here are just some of the famous names from that period:
- Shirley Brancucci, the first female baccarat dealer on the Vegas strip who proved herself to be a skilled dealer time and again, but continuously experienced sexist bias and was the target of objectification;
- Judy Bayley, often dubbed The First Lady of Gambling and the first woman to solely own a major Las Vegas strip resort;
- Claudine Williams, who opened an after-hours gambling club with another woman at the age of 20 and was the first lady to be added to the Nevada Gaming Hall of Fame.
Female Poker Pros
1977 marks an important moment in women’s history of gambling for it was the year the very first women's World Series of Poker (WSOP) was held. Over the years there have been numerous incidents – like men crashing the event, citing anti-discrimination laws with the aim to offend the female players – but we won’t focus on that.
Instead, let’s name a few of the world’s most famous and successful female poker players:
- Vanessa Selbst, the only woman to be number one on the world on the Global Poker Index;
- Kathy Liebert, who won the first Party Poker Million event in 2002, which was the first ever limit poker tournament with a $1 million prize;
- Annie Duke, who has a World Series of Poker (WSOP) gold bracelet from 2004 and used to be the leading money winner in women’s WSOP history (a record now held by Vanessa Selbst);
- Annette Obrestad, the youngest person to ever win a World Series of Poker bracelet (2007 World Series of Poker Europe);
- and Vanessa Rousso, a.k.a. Lady Maverick, who has been earning money as a professional poker player since 2005.
History in the Making
Online gambling, naturally, changed the game for women and today it’s nearly 50/50 between male and female players at online casinos! As for the executive positions in the gambling industry, there are still not nearly as many women as there are men there, but here are a couple of names you should definitely be aware of:
- Patricia Becker, the first woman to be inducted as a Counselor into the International Association of Gaming Advisors, with more than 35 years of experience in the gambling world, specializing in compliance and regulatory issues;
- Virginia McDowell, the only female president and CEO of a major gaming operating company from 2007 until her retirement and the recipient of numerous prestigious awards.
Happy International Women's Day!
Well, that concludes our very brief journey through the women’s history of gambling for the day (despite the word count!). Once again let us wish you a vey happy International Women’s Day and we hope to see you at our forum for a chat – there’s lots to discuss, as always!