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The Riverboat Poker King

Possibly the greatest ever riverboat gambler was a man from Ohio by the name of George H. Devol who played Poker, Faro and Rondo on journeys up and down the Mississippi River for over 40 years. Some say he won well over $1 million in his illustrious gambling career.

Riverboat Poker PlayerDevol was the son of a ship's carpenter who ran away from home at the age of 10 gaining a job on the river steamer and here he learned the basics of many different card games. At the age of 15 he was apparently an expert at seven up Poker and had mastered many of the skills of the card sharp.

During the 1840s, Devol moved south to where the action was in the war in Texas between the US and Mexico and here he was able to use his newly learned skills to cheat soldiers out of their pay packets. At the age of 17 he is said to have headed home having made almost $3000, working his way back along the Mississippi along with other noted card cheats of the era such as 'Big Alexander' and 'Canada' Bill Jones.

One strange quirk with Devol was that he liked to play games of high stakes poker against ministers but after cleaning them out of all their money, he would always return it to them with the warning " Go and Sin No More"

However he showed no real pity when he played against the businessmen, soldiers and farmers who frequented the riverboats.

As he got older, Devol travelled extensively throughout the wild West looking for Poker action. He played many high stakes poker games on trains and once even cleaned out one of the directors of the railroad in which he was travelling resulting in the said director banning all future gaming on his trains.

Eventually in 1896 at the age of 67, Devol retired from gambling and spent his remaining years selling copies of his memoirs: '40 Years a Gambler on the Mississippi' Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Devol's losses seem to have matched his winnings and when he died he was almost penniless!

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Riverboat Gamblers

It was in 1803 that President Thomas Jefferson, a skillful gambler, jumped at the opportunity to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million.

In doing this he, in effect, doubled the size of the country. The rivers soon became major avenues of transportation and commerce throughout the new territories. With the Louisiana Purchase riverboats and gamblers spread from New Orleans, up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and throughout the length and breadth of America. By 1835 there were around 250 riverboats and up to 2,000 professional gamblers working American rivers and settlements. The Riverboat Gambler had now became an important figure in American culture.