The Longest Poker Game
Longest Running Poker Game in History at The Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona
In 1881, inspired by the packed houses of San Francisco, Billy and Lottie Hutchison opened The Bird Cage Theater. They hoped to bring respectable entertainment to the inhabitants of Tombstone, Arizona, and profit from the silver mining boom. The Hutchisons quickly learned that reputable entertainment would not draw the mining crowd. Before long, their stage was used to launch the careers like those of Fatima – a belly dancer who tantalized the coarse-tongued miners with her topless act. Champagne was replaced with whiskey, flowing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; and the ornate upper balconies became a brothel. Within a year of its optimistic opening, the New York Times proclaimed the Bird Cage Theater “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.”
Perhaps most notable of all the entertainment offered at the Bird Cage was the high stakes poker game, held in the basement. It ran continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 8 years, 5 months, and 3 days, making it the longest running poker game in history. Buy-in was $1,000 and over the course of the game an estimated $10 million changed hands, with 10 percent going directly to the Bird Cage. Many of the old west’s most notable character appeared around the table at one time or another. There were titans of industry, such as George Hearst, Diamond Jim Brady, and Adolphus Busch who pitted their skills against the men of the wild west like Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. The basement also housed an elite bordello for those involved in the high stakes game. Wyatt Earp met his fourth wife there; they remained married for 47 years. The game ended in 1889 when ground water seeped into the mines and flooded a number of Tombstone’s buildings. The town went bust and the Bird Cage Theater shut its doors for good.
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