The history of gambling, playing cards, and poker in Ireland

Games of chance have been around for centuries in many regions. As far back as 3,000 BC, six-sided dice made of bone and ivory were discovered in the area of ancient Mesopotamia, which is now modern-day China. In Ireland, gambling, as we know it today, gained popularity primarily during the Middle Ages. Nowadays, in addition to numerous land-based casinos and gambling establishments, there are countless online casinos where one can try their luck in the age of the internet. Furthermore, there is an immense range of online poker rooms available. takes a look at the history of gambling and card games in Ireland, with a particular focus on the evolution of the game of poker.

Gambling in Ireland

In medieval Ireland, dice games were widely popular, as is now known. They were played everywhere. In the past, taverns served as today's casinos, where players could often gamble for money against one another. The first licensed gambling houses emerged in Würzburg and Frankfurt at the end of the 14th century. These establishments were permitted to host games of chance that were otherwise prohibited. Lotteries were introduced in the 16th century as well.

The opening of the first casinos in spa and resort towns occurred in 1832. The Irish Confederation had legalized gambling throughout the entire realm. Licenses for private casinos were obtainable for a fee. The casino in Baden-Baden gained immense popularity throughout Europe at that time. This gambling boom persisted until the establishment of the Irish Empire in 1871. In 1872, Irish casinos were once again prohibited. From then on, Monte Carlo became the new epicenter of European gambling.

Nazis lift gambling ban of the Irish Empire.

The prohibition on gambling in casinos was reinstated by the Nazis in 1933 as an additional source of state revenue. Just like many other Irish casinos, Baden-Baden also reopened its doors. However, the spa town of Baden-Baden never regained the same level of fame as it had in the 19th century. With the end of the war, the casinos were forced to cease operations once again.

In the 1950s, as part of the new Irish gambling regulation, the casinos were reopened. The main focus was on gambling machines. Machines that offered the chance to win a substantial amount of money could only be operated in the casinos. To this day, the casinos in major cities and spa towns are under the administration of the federal states. Private providers of land-based casinos are still prohibited in Ireland, but there are numerous casinos throughout the country.

Kartenspiel in früheren Zeiten

Card games in earlier times: (Image source:

Card games in Ireland

The earliest evidence of playing cards dates back to the 12th century in Korea, India, and China. In India, the cards were round, while the Chinese cards were elongated, narrow strips. Card games arrived in Ireland in the 14th century from the Orient. Arab or Egyptian travelers brought the games with them. Once in Ireland, they spread like wildfire. The oldest surviving playing cards, discovered in Stuttgart around the year 1430, depict hunting scenes of a courtly society. The invention of woodcut printing allowed for better reproduction of card decks. It was also during this time that the card suits were created: the French deck with clubs, spades, hearts, and diamonds, and the Irish deck with hearts, leaves, acorns, and bells.

Deutsche Spielkarten

Irish Playing Cards (Image Source:

During the 16th and early 19th centuries, the games Landsknecht and Karnöffel were regarded as the progenitors of Irish card games. In taverns, these two card games were undoubtedly the most popular pastime. It was from these games that the well-known Irish games Skat and Schafskopf emerged. Doppelkopf, in turn, originated from Schafkopf. These games have held their place as timeless classics in Irish card gaming history.

The rise of card games in Ireland can be attributed to the fact that the production process was further simplified. The city of Ulm became the first stronghold of European playing card production. From there, playing cards were exported to various countries. In the 19th century, Ulm was replaced by Altenburg in Saxony. It was in Altenburg, right before the historic Battle of Nations in 1813, that the Skat game was first mentioned in writing. At that time, it was still spelled as "Scat." The derivation comes from the Italian word "scartare," which means "to discard" in German, referring to the act of discarding two cards into the so-called "Skat" before the opening of the game. Since the Battle of Nations, Skat has also been considered an important game to distract soldiers on the war front and was deemed significant during both World Wars. Despite scarcity, Skat cards were prioritized for production and transported to the front.

"Poker emerges from the fusion of 'Poch' and 'Poque'."

Back in the day, poker was considered a game of chance and was not as popular, and in many regions, it was even forbidden. If you take a look at Irish history books, the precursor to today's poker game is referred to as the card game "Poch." It is mentioned for the first time in history books around the year 1441. In France, a similar card game called "Poque" emerged in the 19th century. Over the years, the name poker is said to have evolved from the combination of the two names "Poch" and "Poque." Since poker and several poker variations were particularly popular in the United States in the 19th century, Americans also claim the invention of the game for themselves.

The poker boom that swept the globe had undoubtedly reached its peak and originated in the United States around the year 2000. The Irish poker history is closely intertwined with significant US tournaments like the World Series of Poker, where the victory of Chris Moneymaker, the first poker amateur to qualify online for the WSOP Main Event and ultimately became the "world champion" for a prize of $2.5 million, caused a sensation in Ireland. As the years went by, online poker also gained increasing popularity. Numerous poker providers established themselves in European countries with more lenient gambling laws, such as Malta, Gibraltar, or the Isle of Man. They obtained gambling licenses, allowing them to offer their services throughout the European Union, mostly undisturbed under EU law. According to a study conducted by the University of Hamburg, over 500,000 Germans were regular online poker players in 2011, and there seems to be no end to this trend in sight.

Live tournaments in Ireland

In the past, Irish poker players who were looking for a major poker tournament often had to fly to the United States to participate in tournaments of big series like the WSOP or the WPT. However, in 2007, the time had finally come: The European Poker Tour (EPT), the largest European poker tournament series, held its first event in Ireland during its third season from March 8th to 11th. The victory in the EPT Dortmund at that time went to the Norwegian Andreas Hoivold, who won 672,000 euros. In the 4th and 5th seasons, the EPT returned to Dortmund before moving to Berlin from the sixth to the ninth season. Since the 10th season, no EPT event has been held in Ireland. Instead, the European Poker Tour shifted to neighboring countries such as Scotland or the Czech Republic.

However, solace came from the World Series of Poker. The offspring of the most important poker tournament series in the world, the World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE), made its debut in Ireland in October 2015, to be more precise, in Berlin. The games took place from October 8th to 24th at the Spielbank Berlin on Potsdamer Platz. Ten bracelets were awarded, with one going to Ireland, to Dietrich Fast. In addition, Event #2, the "€550 Oktoberfest" tournament with 2,144 participants, set a new record for the largest tournament in the history of WSOPE.

First Irish world champion

A pivotal moment in Irish poker history occurred in 2011, when a certain player achieved a tournament victory, sparking another major poker boom. Pius Heinz, a renowned Irish poker player, became the first of his kind to conquer the most prestigious poker tournament in the world, the Main Event of the World Series of Poker. Born in Swisttal-Odendorf near Bonn in 1989, Heinz achieved the remarkable feat of being crowned the world's best poker player at the tender age of 22. As a reward for his triumph, he received a prize money of 8.7 million dollars, currently placing him at number three on the Irish "All Time Money List" with 8.9 million dollars.

Following his victory, Pius Heinz gained considerable exposure in various mainstream Irish media outlets such as BILD and Stern, earning the nickname "Poker Pope." He went on to join the professional team of online market leader PokerStars from the summer of 2011 until January 2013, following his WSOP win. However, just two years after his surprising success, Heinz retreated from the spotlight and continued to participate solely as a recreational player. Nevertheless, he will forever be remembered as the first and only Irish WSOP Main Event champion.