Throughout much of the long and varied history of gambling, women were seen as not suitable to gamble. Even now, when there are no gender limitations, men are still much more present in the world of gambling, regardless of the form.
As in any other industry, women were the ones who suffered the injustice of being ridiculed or banished from public life due to engaging in activities reserved for men. In this week's blog, we set out to give our little contribution to remedying this injustice by presenting you 15 of the most famous female gamblers in history, from famous gamblers of the Old West, to ladies who are shaking up the world of contemporary poker.
What you are about to read is a less known history of gambling, one focused on fierce women who defied social norms and made gambling their stomping ground, paving the way for millions of others to be part of this ancient pastime on an equal footing as men.
So, let's begin, shall we?
1. Lottie Deno (Roul-Lottie)
Any history of famous female gamblers must start with a woman named Lottie Deno, who was so skilled at the craft of gambling that her notoriety preceded her far and wide across the Old West; she is also said to have enjoyed the company of some of the most famous male gamblers of all times, like Doc Holiday, the notorious poker player and gunslinger.
Born presumably as Carlotta J. Thompkins in 1844 in Kentucky, Lottie learned much of her craft from her father, a wealthy racehorse breeder. Upon his death, she was sent to Detroit by her mother, where she was supposed to find a husband.
Destiny, however, had other plans for Lottie and, upon losing all her money, she started travelling along the Mississippi River and playing poker on riverboats. It was probably around this time that she earned the nickname Deno, from the Spanish word for money (dinero).
Her travels soon brought her to San Antonio, Texas, where she met a fellow gambler, who was in awe at Lottie's gambling skills, Frank Thurmond. The life of a female gambler was not an easy one at the time, and the Angel of San Antonio soon found herself fleeing the town after Thurmond was accused of murder.
Lottie and Frank finally got married and gave up their life of gambling and even managed to become respectable members of the community in Deming, New Mexico. One of the most famous gamblers of the Old West, Lottie Deno, died at the age of 89 in Deming and remained one of the town's best-known residents.
2. Eleanor Dumont (Madame Moustache)
Next on our list of famous female gamblers is a lady with an unusual nickname and an even more bewildering life story. Facts about Eleanor DuMont's life, or Madame Moustache as she came to be known later in life, are scarce, but what we know for sure is that she was responsible for opening up the world of Blackjack to women.
She was possibly born as Simone Jules in 1829. She secured her place in the archives of famous gamblers of the Old West in 1854 when she moved to Nevada City, California. There, she opened a gambling parlour named after the game she excelled at, Vingt-et-un (predecessor of Blackjack). Although she paved the way for women to deal and play Blackjack, DuMont supposedly didn't allow other women into the parlour, relying on men as her customers who visited the joint to enjoy the curiosity of "the woman dealer."
After several years of success of the saloon amid the gold rush, the precious metal eventually started to dry up, and Madame Mustache left Nevada City. Due to her reputation as a fair dealer, she found work across California, Arizona and Montana.
In the 1860s, as was typical for a female gambler at the time, she added another trade to her repertoire, operating brothels in several towns she regularly visited. A decade and a ton of money later, she settled down with a man that soon conned her out of her fortune, forcing her to return to gambling.
DuMont, the pioneering female gambler, met her fate in 1879, when she was found dead of a morphine overdose, the move she resorted to after losing a great deal of money in a card game.
3. Maria Gertrudis Barcelo (The Queen of Sin)
The 19th century was a prolific time for women gambling as it put yet another jewel in the crown of famous female gamblers. Born at the turn of the century, Maria Gertrudis "Tules" Barceló was already known as the Queen of Sin by the time she was 25. She rose to fame thanks to an illegal gambling venue she ran in Ortiz Mountains, New Mexico, attracting attention from both authorities and the press.
Unlike most lady gamblers of that time, and despite her nickname, Barcelo was known to have never engaged in prostitution. She kept her dealings strictly within the gambling sector, and, apart from being a successful businesswoman, she was also a famed player of the card game Monte.
Although she enjoyed a great deal of fame throughout her life, there are no accurate depictions of Barcelo. What is known is that she amassed a fortune from her gambling business in Santa Fe—over $350,000 in today's money, according to official accounts—and had an elaborate funeral in 1852, attended by many of her fellow citizens.
4. Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huevert (Poker Alice)
Closing the chapter of famous gamblers of the Old West is Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huevert, better known as Poker Alice.
Born in England in 1851, Alice spent most of her life in the United States. She entered the poker world following the death of her first husband, a famous player himself, after being caught in a difficult financial situation. Alice both played and dealt, quickly making a name for herself among famous women poker players. By the time she earned the nickname Poker Alice, she was already popular, drawing large crowds to her games.
Alice was a tough girl, known always to carry a gun, which she used on more than one occasion and even killed a man for disobeying her "no work on Sunday" rule. Ivers spent a short time in jail but was acquitted after claiming she shot him in self-defence and quickly returned to running her gambling parlour and brothel Poker's Palace in South Dakota.
Although there are no official records of her earnings, Poker Alice claimed that she earned $250,000 (more than $3 million in today's money) in her lifetime. One of the first stars in the long history of famous female gamblers died in 1930 following a failed surgery. Her character was immortalised in several movies, including 1987 Poker Alice, starring Elizabeth Taylor.
5. Mayme Stocker
Mayme Stocker was not a gambler herself, but she has substantially contributed to the recent history of women's gambling. Born in 1875, being the eldest of six children, Stocker learned from an early age to take care of the household and acquired her managerial skills.
Upon marrying a railroad worker and moving around the country several times, Mayme and her new family finally settled in the burgeoning city of Las Vegas. Disappointed by the lack of entertainment and amenities, Stocker took it upon herself to shake up the town and in 1920 opened the Northern Club on Las Vegas' Fremont Street, which quickly gained the status of a local landmark.
Although she never gambled, Stocker went down in the history of gambling as the first woman to ever hold a gambling licence once Las Vegas fully legalised gambling in 1931. This marked a stunning achievement knowing that women were still rarely seen gambling in public at the time, let alone operating a casino business.
After a decade of successfully running the business, Mayme passed the business on to her sons but remained active in Las Vegas' public life until she died in 1972.
6. Shirley Branucci
In the 1970s Las Vegas, women were still typically allowed to deal only at Blackjack tables, while other common types of casino games, such as roulette or baccarat, were men's domain. Shirley Branucci made a name for herself not as a female gambler but as the first-ever female Baccarat dealer on the Las Vegas Strip.
Branucci came to Sin City in the 1950s, determined to make big money serving cocktails in casino resorts. But some decade later, as the job started taking a toll on her health, her boss, the general manager at Stardust casino, advised her to go to a dealer school.
To illustrate the situation surrounding women gambling in this period, we'll tell you that when she started dealing in baccarat, the casino didn't have a woman's uniform for her, so she had to buy two tuxedos and alter them to fit her tiny figure.
The press widely covered her success, and she even appeared in several gambling-related TV shows. Shirley Branucci spent the last decade of her 37-year-long career as a Baccarat manager at Stardust, the first woman ever to hold the title.
7. Claudine Williams
Claudine Williams was something of a gambling wunderkind. Born in 1921 in Louisiana, she started securing her place among famous female gamblers at an early age. At 12, she was employed at a gambling establishment; at 15, she knew how to play nearly every casino game, and by the time she turned 21, Williams was already running her gambling venue in Texas!
Around this time, she met her future husband, Shelby Williams, with whom she moved to Las Vegas. In 1963, the two bought the Silver Slipper Casino and operated it rather successfully before selling it to Howard Hughes. However, they soon purchased the land across Ceasar's Palace and in 1973 opened a brand-new establishment, the Holiday Casino, now known as the Harrah's Hotel and Casino.
Following Shelby's death in 1977, Claudine went on to take the reins of the Holiday Casino, becoming the first-ever female executive of a major casino. But Williams' accomplishment did not end there. She was also the first woman to hold the positions of chair of the American Bank of Commerce board of directors and the President of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
The highest achievement for Claudine Williams came in 1992 when this revolutionary figure became the first woman to be inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame.
8. Judy Bayley
Among the gambling ladies who weren't gamblers themselves but made a significant contribution to affirming women's gambling place is Judy Bayley. Commonly known as the first lady of gambling, Judy Bayley is remembered in the history of Las Vegas and gambling in general as the first woman to own and operate a casino.
To play casino games, one needs to have steady nerves and think fast; to run a casino, you must have a brilliant mind and exceptional skills. Judy Bayley proved to have both when in 1964, she took over The Hacienda hotel and casino following her husband's death.
Despite having no formal training in management, Judy Bayley took to running the casino like a duck to water! Apart from successfully paying her husband's gambling debts, about which she did not know before his death, she also oversaw the introduction of poker and pan at The Hacienda and is widely credited for bringing live Keno to the Strip!
Bayley is, perhaps, not a household name outside of Las Vegas, but she remains close to the heart of the town's residents, who remember her for her invaluable charitable work.
9. Cat Hulbert
There was little indication in Cat Hulbert's early life that she would become a female gambler of the highest order. She took an interest in gambling while investigating the industry during her employment in the New York Senate. Shortly after completing a course in Blackjack dealing, she moved to Las Vegas.
Her life changed forever when she met Ken Uston, the notorious Blackjack player and strategist, who took her on his infamous Czechs team. With Uston, Hulbert acquired the skill of card counting, touring across the globe and earning a great deal of money. This lifestyle brought her not only money but notoriety, too: she has been arrested multiple times and banned from numerous casinos around the world due to card counting.
Hulbert became a famous Seven-card stud player and is the only woman ever to be named one of the top players of this game by the Card Player Magazine. She has since quit professional gambling and is now devoted to promoting poker and Blackjack among women.
10. Annie Duke
A list of players of poker would be incomplete without the name of Annie Duke, aka the Duchess of Poker.
Her brother, poker professional Howard Lederer, was the first to see the poker potential in Annie Duke when she was in her mid-twenties and encouraged her to hone her skills further. Soon after she learned about her newfound talent, Annie decided to make poker her full-time job.
At one point, Duke was the leading money winner in the history of the World Series of Poker (the title now held by the next lady on our list). Among her contributions to the rise of women's gambling is a gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker in 2004 and the only female gambler to have won the National Heads-Up Poker Championship back in 2010. As a result, Duke consistently ranks among the top 10 richest female poker players, even though she quit professional poker in 2012.
Although she is not playing anymore, she has authored several instructional books, such as "Decide to Play Great Poker" and "The Middle Zone", in which she argues that, apart from luck, those who are looking to succeed in poker need skills.
11. Vanessa Selbst
Brace yourselves; here comes the absolute titan of the poker world! With three bracelets in the World Series of Poker, Vanessa Selbst is undoubtedly one of the richest and most famous women poker players in the game's history.
Selbst is also the only person, either female or male, to win the North American Poker Tour two times in a row in 2010 and 2011! During her poker career, Vanessa Selbst participated in as many as 21 live poker tournaments!
During her career, Vanessa Selbst took part in a total of 21 live poker tournaments and, as a result, amassed a fortune of nearly $12 million, making her the wealthiest female gambler ever and the only woman to reach the No. 1 ranking in the Global Poker Index!
Although she never won the World Poker Tour or the European Poker Tour, Selbst ended her participation in these tournaments with three and four money finishes, respectively.
To top things off, this New York-born also holds a degree in Political Sciences from Yale University and currently works as a hedge fund manager. Wow!
12. Shannon Elizabeth Fadal
Actress and former fashion model Shannon Elizabeth Fadal, once described poker as her second career. And for a good reason: she played the Main Event of the 2005 World Series of Poker and scored a win in a tournament that celebrated the launch of a new poker room at Caesars Palace a year later, beating 83 celebrities and professionals, securing a spot among poker celebrities.
Elizabeth Fadal also finished in money four times in the World Series of Poker and managed to secure a place in the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship semifinals, where she faced creme de la creme of the poker world.
All in all, Elizabeth Fadal scored 12 tournament cashes in the period between 2006 and 2010 and remains among the best-known celebrity poker aficionados.
13. Jennifer Tilly
Daughter of a gambler and poker player, Jennifer Tilly is another celebrity in the register of famous female gamblers.
She won a 2005 World Series of Poker bracelet, and a hefty sum of $158,625 during the Ladies' No-Limit Texas hold 'em event, defeating 600 participants. Later that year, she also won the third World Poker Tour Ladies Invitational Tournament in Los Angeles.
Tilly has also made appearances in the GSN Poker Royale series and took part in the Celebrity Poker Showdown in 2006, coming in third, and appeared in the Poker After Dark show. She appeared in the video game World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions 2007 Edition in 2007.
Announcing her retirement from poker in 2008, Tilly said that she's not giving up poker entirely but intends to "treat it more like a hobby and less like a career."
14. Annette Obrestad
Apart from her massive fortune made from playing poker (nearly $4 million), Annette Obrestad will be remembered in women gambling as the youngest ever winner of the World Series of Poker Europe in 2007, only a day before her 19th birthday.
On this occasion, she won $2.01 million, breaking the previous record set by Annie Duke in 2004. What's even more interesting is that before the 2007 WSOPE, this female gambler from Norway cashed in in only four live poker tournaments. She currently holds second place among professional players of poker in Norway, with most money won in live tournaments.
Apart from being among the most famous women poker players, Obrestad has also contributed to writing online gambling history, given that she kicked off her career playing online poker.
On multiple occasions, Obrestad claimed that she had never made a deposit and instead built her online bankroll by playing freerolls. Good job, girl!
Once famous for always wearing sunglasses when playing to hide her facial expressions, Obrestad now runs a successful make-up tutorial channel on YouTube (no sunglasses!). Although she never retired from poker officially, she seems to appear less and less in tournaments.
15. Kristen Bicknell
Kristen Bicknell, a Canadian poker player, closes our rundown of poker stars. Bicknell also started her poker playing career online while she was still a university student.
When Bicknell started playing, She rightfully nicknamed herself The Ultimate Grinder due to the number of poker hands she played. In the years between 2011 and 2013, she solidified her position in women gambling and gave a whole new meaning to her moniker by having played an estimated 7.5 million poker hands.
Bicknell is a proud wearer of three World Series of Poker bracelets and another 33 finishes in money in the same tournament. She ranked No. 1 among live female poker tournament players in 2017.
At 34, the Canadian is still very active on the poker scene, and her current winnings amount to a staggering figure of slightly over $5 million.
Honourable Mention: Faro Ladies
Although women's gambling was frowned upon throughout much of the history, the activity was often seen as feminine, "an enchanting witchery," as some used to call it. Emotionality and vulnerability of women were often linked to the haphazardness of games of chance.
It's no wonder then that women used to be stigmatised whenever they dared to engage in this predominantly male activity, especially in the Old Continent.
Going back to 18th century Europe, when gambling in public was unacceptable for women in general, let alone women who belonged to the nobility. 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 trendy 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.
Authors depicted Faro ladies as immoral in newspapers and caricatures and likened their gambling practices to prostitution, attributing them the power to seduce men and break the centuries-old distinction between the male public sphere and the private sphere of women.
Luckily, a lot has changed since then, and, as we've shown in the above list, women now gamble on equal footing as men, although they are still less present in the world of gambling than their male counterparts.
What Percentage of Gamblers Are Female? Gender Differences Among Gamblers
When it comes to gambling engagement and frequency, research has shown time and time again that men are more inclined to engage in gambling activities than women. Although figures differ from one survey to another the figures are always tilted to the men’s side.
Examining links between gender and gambling, studies have found that, in terms of engagement in gambling or frequency of gambling, men gamble twice as much as women (69% of men compared to 36% of women).
According to some studies, there are significant gender differences when it comes to problem gambling, too: taking into account age, family and socio-economic status of respondents, the rate of male gamblers who are experiencing gambling problems landed at 20.1%, compared to 7.8% among women. In other words, men are three times more likely to develop gambling problems compared to women.
The factors that contribute to engaging in gambling and, potentially, developing gambling problems, include impulsive coping, tendency to take risks, and social anxiety, all of which seem to be more pronounced in men than in women, according to researchers.