It probably goes without saying that gambling and the Wild West go hand in hand, with the first versions of casino table games such as poker being enjoyed in saloons. You’ll also see poker games as a recurring theme in many western movies and TV shows. Let’s take a look at the history of casino culture and some saloons you can still visit if you’re looking for an immersive experience beyond online casino games.
The history of casino culture in the Wild West
Long before the days of online poker and roulette casino games, people making their way through new frontier towns enjoyed playing casino games. In the Old West, gambling was a key part of frontier culture and could easily be found in small, mostly lawless, towns that sprung up in places close to gold mines, military outposts, and river crossings. These spaces attracted people who liked to take risks and became places for gambling to thrive. In the Old West towns such as Dodge City, Tombstone, Deadwood, and Virginia City, gamblers played games like Chuck-A-Luck, Three Card Monte, High Dice, and Faro. Gambling was considered the number one form of entertainment in the west. Cowboys, miners, lumberjacks, lawmen, and businessmen could all be seen playing casino games for pleasure or profit. It was almost standard protocol to erect a gambling hall whenever a new settlement or camp started.
The California Gold Rush of 1849 led to one of the largest draws for migrant gamblers. This resulted in San Francisco becoming the gambling hotspot of the west and famous gambling houses included Samuel Dennison’s Exchange, Parker House, and the El Dorado Gambling Saloon.
The word “saloon” conjures up imagery of the Old West complete with the classic wooden front, a wide boardwalk, a swinging door, and dusty streets, and were the central meeting place for social and political life in the Wild West. Did you know that the first place that was called a “saloon” was at Brown’s Hole near the Wyoming-Colorado-Utah border, established in 1822?
Over the years, saloons sprung up everywhere and became popular places filled with soldiers, cowboys, and all sorts of other characters. Of course, the first Western saloons were hastily thrown together tents. As the settlement became more populated and permanent, the local saloon would thrive and take on the traditional architecture of the Old West. There are still some saloons standing which affords us the opportunity to get a glimpse of casino culture in the Wild West.
Experience the Wild West at these saloons
Silver Dollar Saloon – Leadville, Colorado
The legendary Silver Dollar Saloon, established in 1879, takes you back in time with many features throughout the building being original pieces. The fugitive John Henry “Doc Holiday”, who killed a policeman to avoid paying his $5 debt, was also a regular at this saloon. He would deal cards and play the piano in the backroom. This establishment offers visitors a wonderful experience filled with memorable moments and today you can enjoy delicious food on the dinner, lunch, brunch, and bar bite menu.
Location: 315 Harrison Ave, Leadville, CO 80461
White Elephant Saloon – Fort Worth, Texas
This is one of Fort Worth’s most legendary drinking establishments and was originally opened in the 1890s in Hell’s Half Acre, before eventually moving to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. Today it is owned by Tim Love, celebrity chef and TV personality, and is the perfect place to indulge in some Fort Worth Stockyards history. It was voted one of the best bars in America by Esquire and visitors can get a detailed history upon their visit while enjoying some beverages, food, and live music.
Location: 106 E Exchange Ave, TX 76164
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon – Tombstone, Arizona
This establishment was built in 1880 as the Grand Hotel and was frequented by the likes of outlaw Doc Holliday. It was burned down by the Clanton Gang two years later and after the reconstruction was complete it was turned into a saloon. You can relive the Old West today by dressing up and taking pictures behind the bar, at the piano, or with a cowboy and saloon girl. Visitors get to enjoy toe-tapping, hand-slapping, live country entertainment. There is so much interesting history to take in when you visit Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.
Location: 417 E. Allen Street, Tombstone, AZ 85638
Experience some of the Wild West casino action at BetMGM
The best games to play at our casino to get a taste of the saloon life are our Western-inspired online slots. If you’d like to feel like a cowboy or outlaw making their way through a frontier town, you can also play our range of blackjack online casino games and roulette casino games. At BetMGM, you get to experience a world-class online casino. Sign up and play a wide variety of online slots, casino table games, and live dealer games. There is so much to encounter with BetMGM.