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Why Poker is as American as Apple Pie

Why Poker is as American as Apple Pie

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by nan palmero

Some things we just take for granted. In poker, such a casual readiness to take things at face value is normally a recipe for disaster, but in the wider world life is just too short to stop and second guess every single thing we do. Sometimes it only makes sense to take things for granted.

But it is in exploring the seemingly natural - in whatever aspect of life - and deconstructing that common sense, analysing it and learning from it that we can make ourselves better, more informed individuals. And whilst that sort of progressive learning is precisely how a good poker player will develop their game and move on to a higher level of competitive acumen, it is a rationale that is equally shared by scientists and students of social behaviour from marketers to economists and psephologists to politicians. Taking the time to ask questions about what we think of as our common sense may not always be comfortable, but it is a way to peer beneath the surface of our day to day lives and to begin to usefully make sense of them.

A Very American Question

The question under examination here is one such no brainer. It’s a question that addresses an issue that is so thoroughly steeped in our common consciousness that even asking it can seem faintly ridiculous: just why is poker so popular in the US? Or, to put it another way, what is it about the game of poker that makes it so American?

If we start from the recognition that the drive in international poker is being fuelled primarily by North American organizations (not least the Amaya organization that owns PokerStars and Full Tilt) then at least we can recognise the North American accent that poker carries with it. The international marketplace likes poker in much the same way that it likes Apple products, Disney cartoons and Hollywood movies. Commercial poker - and particularly online poker - represents part of the American footprint on the wider process of globalization.

A Global Phenomenon

There are other providers which are not North American but which are equally cashing in on the world wide poker boom. But it is impossible to escape the blunt fact that from its terminology to what social scientists would call its underlying ideological structure, poker embodies and encodes a distinctly American way of being and is the product of a particularly American history.

It is notable from even a cursory examination of the market place that whilst specialist poker providers tend to be US and Canada based, the offerings of European providers tend to be more diverse. In fact, as the case of 32Red slots exemplifies particularly well, poker is simply a part of their more rounded gaming proposition. On that basis it is no surprise to see that 32Red devote considerable energy to promoting their numerous slots games and the other casino games which they run alongside their poker offering.

As anyone who knows their history will point out, those online slots have their own historical line that connects them back to poker. The very first slot machines were designed as automated poker machines. And of course, they were invented by an American. In Australia and New Zealand they are still familiarly known as ‘pokies’ - but that is a different story.

Exposing the historical threads

So what are these ideological and historical threads that make poker as irrefutably American as Micky Mouse? Just how can we make the claim that for all its world-wide popularity, poker represents the fundamental values of a red, white and blue American place on the cultural map?

The answer is that the subtext to the game evokes the spirit of the gold rush and the absolutely American insistence on self-reliance. It rests in the principle of every man standing on his own merits and making his own calls against all comers whatever the odds. As a contrast, poker’s fundamental connection between leisure and serious cash rewards could hardly be further from the genteel English notion of collective amateurism that produced so many of the world’s ball games.

As American as apple pie

Poker could never prosper in a socialist society. The essence of the game is too vividly steeped in the idea of personal self-reliance. Poker is a game for the solitary, individually ambitious and for those with a readiness to embrace risk in the service of profit. The spirit of the gold rush may have slipped out of sight over the years, but its legacy is evoked with every call and every raise, and every time a card is turned. It might be easy to forget or to lose sight of, and the international spread of the game may disguise its roots, but in its most fundamental aspects poker is - and always will be - as American as apple pie.

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