Candidates' Gambling Habits Reflect Personalities

Running for president is already a crapshoot, but it turns out that many U.S. leaders have also been pretty serious gambling men. Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Warren Harding, and Lyndon Johnson all played poker. When he was in the Navy, Richard Nixon won enough at the game to finance his first congressional race.

It turns out that both John McCain and Barack Obama are gambling men, and their different gaming styles, says Time magazine's Michael Scherer, might illuminate some differences in their governing styles.

Scherer says that throughout his adult life, John McCain has been a showman. "He loves being the king of the room." McCain, says Scherer, has always been drawn to dice and "by his own accounts had some rather extreme nights on the French shoreline there playing dice."

Scherer says that McCain has continued to play craps. "When he's traveling overseas, if he sees a casino, he'll walk down with money in his pocket," Scherer says. "Or he'll plan ahead and go to Vegas with several thousand dollars to play for hours at a time."

Scherer says that his largest regret in reporting the story is that he never got McCain to sit down and explain his gambling system. But his sources tell him that McCain is a calculated player, who will play for three to five thousand dollars at a time, which, says Scherer, "is about the bankroll you want if you're playing $50 minimum tables."

Scherer says that Barack Obama is a much more studied person, whose game of choice is poker. He says that Obama spent a great deal of time at the card table when he was a state legislator in Springfield, Illinois in the 1990s. "He wanted to get to know the town," says Scherer. "So he was playing a game with lobbyists and other politicians. It's really a time honored tradition in for politicians in Washington and in state capitols around the country."

In his Time magazine piece, Scherer concludes: "McCain's campaign, like his life, has been marked by its embrace of living dangerously and by clear runs of fortune and disappointment. Obama, meanwhile, has succeeded, no less remarkably, by diligently executing a premeditated strategy."

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