The casino craps player is a social animal, a thrill seeker who wants not just to win but to win with a crowd. Unlike cards or a roulette wheel, well-thrown dice reward most everyone on the rail, yielding a collective yawp that drowns out the slots. It is a game for showmen, Hollywood stars and basketball legends with girls on their arms. It is also a favorite pastime of the presumptive Republican nominee for President, John McCain.
The backroom poker player, on the other hand, is more cautious and self-absorbed. Card games may be social, but they are played in solitude. No need for drama. The quiet card counter is king, and only a novice banks on luck. In this game, a good bluff trumps blind faith, and the studied observer beats the showman. So it is fitting that the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, raked in so many pots in his late-night games with political friends.
For centuries, the nation's political leaders have loved their games of chance. Andrew Jackson owned fighting cocks and raced horses. Richard Nixon helped finance his first congressional race with his World War II poker winnings. Teddy Roosevelt noted that the professional gamblers he knew "usually made good soldiers." But even among this crowd, McCain and Obama are distinctive. For both men, games of chance have been not just a hobby but also a fundamental feature in their development as people and politicians. For Obama, weekly poker games with lobbyists and fellow state senators helped cement his position as a rising star in Illinois politics. For McCain, jaunts to the craps table helped burnish his image as a political hot dog who relished the thrill of a good fight, even if the risk of failure was high.
July 7, 2008
Gambling Habits of the Presidential Candidates