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Playing Poker with the President: Warren G. Harding

American Presidents through the ages have been known to enjoy their games of poker in one form or another.  Political analysts believe that the challenge of poker and the way the game demands that players try to outwit their opponents by using skill is the perfect practice for presidential candidates. Current President Barack Obama is a keen poker player and hasn’t hidden the fact from anyone who asks, and there have been a number of colorful gamblers who took residence in the White House over the years.

One presidential gambler, however, definitely stands out from among the rest  – that being President Warren G. Harding, who led the nation just before the Prohibition period.   Harding was a controversial personality from the very beginning, and even his nomination caused quite a stir.  He was one of many candidates put up by the Republicans in the 20’s, and even though he originally got the fewest votes, he moved fast up the ladder until he was actually nominated to become president.

The newspaperman-turned-president certainly had the charisma and looks to be president, and he managed to charm his way into the White House, but once he moved in, he became renowned for this love of a good time – in line with the general feel of  the nation.  When he came into power, Harding moved some of his Ohioan cronies with him to Washington, and evenings were put aside for wild poker games between the president and his men into the early hours of the morning.  Rumor has it that Harding once lost the White House china in a bad bet. Once Prohibition set in, the parties became even wilder and Harding was known for his excellent bathtub gin which would be served by his wife Florence, who stood in as barmaid, cigar lighter, and poker dealer.   But while Florence was happy to endure her husband’s love for gambling, she wasn’t prepared to put up with his love for other women, something that he was also, unfortunately, well known for.  Poor Florence had to suffer the humiliation of an almost public love affair between the president and Nan Bitton, who later claimed that she had borne Harding’s child.

Warren G. Harding died while still president on campaign, and speculation continues until this day as to why his death was so sudden.  One rumor has it that Florence was so fed up with his philandering and gambling that she had him murdered….

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