Of the hundreds of famous names who could be included in this chapter because of their gambling activities, I can make only an arbitrary choice.  So, like most anthologists, I am presenting the ones that seem to me particularly interesting because of both their fame and their gambles.  Most of the names to be mentioned here are famous for reasons other than gambling; they are, to be precise, the names of famous people who gambled.  There have been few full-time professional gamblers who have gained fame (or, for that matter, notoriety) outside their gambling circles.  Nick the Greek, whose professional activities were described in Chapter 11, is an exception: Many non-professional or even non-gambler Americans know of him.  But there are a number of other men in the gambling fraterniti4es of Las Vegas who are as well known to other professionals as Nick the Greek, but whose names would mean nothing to the rest of the world.

There have been plenty of people, however, whose names are practically household words in most corners of the world and who were avid gamblers.  Some of these names take us back centuries into antiquity: For example, thanks to a great many novels, plays, films, and potted histories, very few people can have escaped hearing about Julius Caesar and his young friend Mark Antony.  Not only were they Roman rulers and important historical figures; they were also gamblers who (according to the ancient historian figures; they were also gamblers who (according to the ancient historian Plutarch) spent much of their leisure time playing dice or sortilege games, betting on cock fights, and so on.
As I have indicated throughout this book, Roman history contains countless stories of the gambling  activities of important Romans, including emperors.  The emperor Claudius was so obsessed with dice games that he had the interior of his carriage altered to enable him to throw dice while traveling.  A skit on the death of Claudius, by the Roman dramatist Seneca, represented the late emperor in hell, condemned for eve to pick up dice and try to shake them in a cup without a bottom.

Nero, who succeeded Claudius, was equally obsessed with dice; He often staked sums up to 400,000 sestertii (the equivalent of about $ 50,000 ) on one throw.  The mad emperor Caligula gambled constantly, and had the nasty habit of replenishing his losses by arresting or executing wealthy citizens (on trumped-up charges or none at all) and confiscating their wealth.

A considerable number of monarchs in later history managed nearly to rival the Roman emperors in their addition to gambling.  Henry VIII of England was mentioned back in Chapter 1 as having gambled for and lost some immense church bells from the city of London.  And gambling was one of the principal pastimes in the court of France’s Louis XIV (thanks largely to Cardinal Mazarin, who introduced  a great many games, including hoca)

Heavy gambling would seem to have an obvious place in the pleasure filled lives that we attribute (rightly or wrongly ) to the wealthy, leisured kings and aristocrats of the past.  But a roster of famous gambling names can draw from other walks of life as well: from the ranks of great and dedicated writers, for instance, such as Dostoevski or Montaigne; or from the ranks of equally great and dedicated scientists such as Cardan or Descartes.  And famous gamblers can also be found among legendary folk heroes-especially the heroes of America’s Old West, like the famous gunfighter and marshal Wyatt Earp.

Many of the heroes of the historic American West were not only gunfighters and adventures, but professional gamblers as well.  Luke Short, a renowned dandy and ladies man, was a top gunman in the rough days of Tombstone Arizona, and a dealer in  saloon gambling hells.

Earp’s exploits as a defender of law and order have been embellished over the years with fiction, but his skill as a gambler was certainly fact.  His salary as a marshal was only a fraction of the income he made from his ability as a card player-and from an ‘oriental Saloon and Gambling House” in Tomb-stone time, and his exploits have also received a lot of fictional exaggeration.  And he, too, was a prolific gambler.  In fact, he died while playing poker in a saloon at Deadwood, Dakota, when (for probably the first time in his career) he was seated with his back to the door.  About halfway through the game a “tin-horn” gambler named Jack McCall, it turned out, had been hired as an assassin by a group of crooked gamblers who were  afraid that Hickok was going to be appointed marshal of Deadwood which would apparently have been hard on their business.) Hickok had just drawn cards when he was shot, and friends who picked up the cards found that he had drawn cards when he was shot, and friends who picked up the cards found that he had drawn a pair of aces and a pair of eights.  Ever since then, aces and eights have been called, by poker players, the “dead man’s hand.”

For contrast we can leave the wild and woolly American frontier saloons for the elegant and fashionable salons of European society.  Through these sophisticated circles, taking full advantage of 18th century’s gambling frenzy, moved one of the most famous gamblers of any time and place: the Italian adventurer, rogue, and great lover Casanova.

His full name was Giacomo Jacopo Casanova de Seingalt; he was a wanderer who traveled from city to city (Venice, Greece, Paris, Berlin, London, Madrid, etc.)  as the mood took him or as discretion warranted.  And everywhere he went (as he says in his Memoirs ) “pleasure, gaming and idleness were my usual companions.”

Wyatt Earp (photographed in 1885).  Modern film and television programs have immortalized his exploits as a marshal and gunfighter in the American West during the 1870s and 80s.  But Earp was almost as famous for his skill with cards and dice as for his skill with a gun.

It is remarkable, considering the extent of his travels and adventures (amorous and otherwise), that Casanova ever found time to sit down at a gaming table.  But, in fact, gambling was his living.  At the age of 20, he writes, “I had to earn my living in one way or another, and I decided on the profession of gamester.”  Within a week he was completely penniless; but by some judicious borrowing he managed to retrieve his fortunes.  This sudden plunge from affluence into poverty was a regular occurrence throughout Casanova’s gambling life.  Still, he was both ingenious and unscrupulous enough to find invariably some way to get back on his feet.  All in all, he won more often than he lost- a fact that makes one of his recent biographers hint that he seemed “a little too lucky at the gaming tables.”

Faro was his favorite game: but then it was the favorite of practically all society gamblers and pleasure-seekers of the times.  Around 1750, for instance, according to the Memories, a faro bank at Lyons took in about 300,000 francs during a few days.  When Casanova was holding the bank, he was usually successful.  But once in Venice, in a gambling house where only noblemen had the privilege of holding the bank, he lost 500 sequins (gold pieces) in a day or two.  As usual, of course, he recouped his losses- or, rather his mistress of the day, gambling with her own money, recouped them for him.

Dodge City, Kansas (where Earp was marshal), was one of the most notorious of the wide-open cattle towns and gambling “hells” of the Old West.  Customers pose during a quiet moment in the Long Branch Saloon-scene of many killings.

Another time, when Casanova’s luck had tempor4arily run out, a lady came to his aid in a different way:
“I played on the martingale, but with such bad luck that I was soon left without a sequin.  I was obliged to tell [the lady] of my losses, and it was at her request that I sold all her diamonds, losing what I got for them… I still gamed, but for small stakes, waiting for the slow return of good luck.”

Gambling in the 1880s at one of the rougher saloons in Pacos, Texas.   The seated man wearing a white hat was a small-time card game sharp and gunman; apparently he was oblivious to the fact that the term then used by cheating gamblers for the victim they intended to fleece was “the man in the white hat.”