Historically, gambling has been considered a male-dominated activity. Yet, plenty of women have made a name for themselves with their brilliant gameplay. From the first women who have broken the gender barriers to today’s professional female players, women have played a significant role in the gambling industry.
Let’s take a closer look at the ten most famous female gamblers that have earned their iconic reputation by throwing the dice and letting it roll.
10 Most Famous Female Gamblers
Net worth: $7 million (appr. £5 million)
Since the world of professional gambling has gone mainstream, even Hollywood celebrities have started taking a seat at the table and picking up chips. One of the most prominent women gamblers who has gone poker pro is Shannon Elizabeth. Some just play gamblers in Hollywood movies, some are real players even in real life.
Perhaps best known for her role as foreign exchange student Nadia in Hollywood’s American Pie, Shannon Elizabeth made gambling her second career. While she didn’t exactly become a world-famous poker player, she achieved considerable success in this “traditionally male” environment. Shannon Elizabeth was the winner of the inaugural Nicky Hilton New Year’s Eve Poker Tournament, which included 83 other celebrities and pocketed $55,000 (appr. £39,563) prize money. Her total gambling wins as of today estimate an impressive sum of $235,866 (appr. £169,592).
However, this passion has filled America’s tabloids with rumours of Shannon Elizabeth’s gambling problem and the gambling ring she supposedly runs from her home.
2. Gladys Knight
Net worth: $28 million (appr. £20.1 million)
Gladys Knight, better known as “Empress of Soul”, built a career as a multi-platinum singer with seven Grammy awards added to her name. Her public life and successful music career aren’t a mystery to the world. However, her life as a casino gambler is something not many people know about.
Although Gladys Knight’s gambling obsession never took her to the professional scene, she spent a good decade in the casino halls across Vegas and California. According to her autobiography, she doesn’t regret the time spent playing card games. Knight’s games of choice were mostly baccarat and blackjack.
In her book “Between Each Line of Pain and Glory”, Gladys Knight opens up about her gambling problem and how casinos did everything in their power to make her and other famous people feel safe while playing, so they would keep coming back.
3. Judy Bayley
Judy Bayley, born in 1915 in Dallas, Texas, is probably one of the most prominent female figures in the casino world. She certainly has a place among the most famous gamblers in history.
Back in 1956, Judy and her husband Warren “Doc” Bayley opened their Hacienda hotel and casino in Nevada. Their casino was instrumental in the success and growth of today’s iconic Las Vegas Strip. After her husband’s death, Bayley became the first woman in the history of Nevada to solely own and operate a hotel-casino. With this, she earned her nickname “The First Lady of Gambling”.
It certainly wasn’t easy to keep her casino afloat, and she had to deal with many financial and other problems. However, Judy Bayley became a gambling icon by organising poker games and bringing live Keno, a popular lottery-like game in the US, to the Strip via her Hacienda casino.
Besides being great in business, Judy Bayley was a dedicated philanthropist. She raised money for cancer and heart disease charities and supported children in need and education projects in Nevada. It was her way to prove that the casino industry could be a force for good in the right hands.
4. Annette Obrestad
Net worth: $20 million (appr. £14.4 million)
Another female gambler among the famous gamblers is Annette Obrestad, the youngest individual to make a list. She began playing online poker as a teenager and caught the public eye when she won the 2007 World Series of Poker Europe. Annette was the youngest person to win a World Series of Poker bracelet.
After that, she took part in several big tournaments, such as the European Poker Tour and the Aussie Millions. Between 2006 and 2007, Annette Obrestad’s poker prize money reached more than $1 million (appr. £718,984). She won over $600,000 (appr. £431,517) on Pokerstars, $175,000 (appr. £125,859) on Tilt Poker and $260,000 (appr. £186,936) on UltimateBet. By 2008, Oberstand ranked number 51 on Pocketfives.com, a website that tracks online poker players.
Interestingly, Annette Obrestad never deposited money on any online poker site; instead, she made the initial bankroll by winning freeroll poker tournaments.
Today, besides having a place among the famous female poker players, Annette Oberstand has a successful YouTube channel where she shares mainly makeup and beauty tutorials.
5. Kirsten Bicknell
Net worth: $1.5 million (appr. £1.08 million)
Kirsten Bicknell is probably the most famous of all professional gamblers in Canada. Having begun playing online poker in her freshman year at college, Bicknell claims she fell in love with the game from day one. Since then, she has participated in so many poker tournaments that she gained the nickname “The Ultimate Grinder”.
Between 2011 and 2013, Bicknell played an estimated 7.5 million poker hands. By the end of 2013, she had triumphed in the poker World Series Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship, winning more than $170,000 (appr. £122,249) in prize money. In 2018, Kirsten Bicknell’s gambling took her to a female-only poker event nicknamed “Femme Fatale” week.
Today, with her over $5 million (appr. £3.56 million) tournament prize winnings, Kirsten Bicknell has secured her place among the world’s best and most famous women gamblers.
6. Maria Gertrudis Barcelo
Dona Maria Gertrudis Barcelo is certainly one of the most famous old west female gamblers. Born sometime around 1800 in Mexico, the “Queen of Sin” has gained almost mythical status in the man-dominated gambling world. Known as a fiercely independent businesswoman, Dona Maria relied on no man. Instead, she made it on her own while rubbing shoulders with influential American politicians, traders and soldiers.
Often referred to as “La Tules”, she is also famed for being the best dealer and Monte player throughout the Western territories, as well as one of the first professional female gamblers and saloon owners in the world. Upon her death in 1850, Maria Gertrudis Barcelo bequeathed a gambling fortune (around £252,000 in today’s money) and several properties to her family.
7. Kathy Liebert
Net worth: $6.89 million (appr. £4.95 million)
Another well-known poker player on our famous female gamblers list is the legendary Kathy Liebert. She was born on October 1, 1967, in Tennessee. After graduating in business and finance, Liebert moved to Colorado, where only a few communities had legalised gambling by then.
It all started with her playing $5 (appr. £3.60) limit poker at two casino resorts nearby. Liebert’s success at the tables didn’t go unnoticed, and she was invited to become a prop player.
Since then, Kathy Liebert’s gambling career has bloomed. First, she became the first female to ever win the Party Million poker tournament with $1 million (appr. £718,984) first prize money. Afterwards, Kathy Liebert has seen many more wins in her poker career. On many occasions, she has made the World Poker Tour final table. Moreover, she earned the WSOP bracelet in the 2004 Limit Hold’em shootout event and took third place in the 2005 Borgata Open.
Even though compared to the other top professional female gamblers, Kathy keeps a low profile, it doesn’t take anything from her amazing chips records in the highest stakes tables. Kathy Liebert’s poker tournament winnings today reach more than $6 million (appr. £4.31 million).
8. Vanessa Selbst
Net worth: $6 million (appr. £4.31 million)
Arguably, the greatest and the most famous among the female gamblers at the elite tables is Vanessa Selbst. Since she first popped up at the 2006 Las Vegas World Series, Vanessa Selbst made quite a splash on the gambling scene.
With her aggressive play, the Brooklyn-born poker star has accumulated an eye-watering $12 million (appr. £8.63 million) in live tournament prize money, which is the highest amount earned by any female gambler ever. Moreover, Vanessa is the only woman with three World Series Poker bracelets added to her name and, to this day, the only female player who has reached world number one at the Global Poker Index. She stayed on the top for two weeks. Vanessa also remains the only professional gambler who has won the North American Poker Tour Main Event two consecutive times.
In 2018, Vanessa Selbst left the poker tables to pursue other life goals. However, after a short break, she made a comeback to gambling in 2019. She is now out of her “retirement”, playing and teaching poker.
9. Lottie Deno
While today it’s not unusual to see women at the casino floor taking a seat at the table and picking up chips, this wasn’t always the case. Back in the American Wild West, gambling was considered a men-only world, and female gamblers were rarely allowed at the tables.
However, Carlotta Thompkins, otherwise known as Lottie Deno, short for the Spanish word for money (“dinero”), wasn’t the type of woman to take orders from anyone, especially men. Rather than marrying a respectable man, Lottie Deno started gambling and fell in love with the notorious lawbreaker Frank Thurmond. The pair travelled together through the West, playing cards in the saloons as they went.
During her successful poker career, Lottie Deno has taken on and bested some of the most famous gamblers in history, including the infamous Doc Holliday. Eventually, she gave up gambling and retired in Deming, New Mexico, to live comfortably off her winnings.
10. Alice Ivers
Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huckert or better known as Poker Alice Ivers, was a professional poker player, brothel owner and bootlegger, and on more than one occasion, all of the three at the same time. Born in 1851 in Devon, England, the three-time widow has become one of the most famous gamblers in history.
Alice’s first husband, Frank Duffield, a mining engineer, introduced her to the game. He was a gambler, and she usually accompanied him to Leadvill’s gambling tables while carefully observing. Soon after her husband’s death, Alice Ivers joined the gambling tables and became a skilled poker player.
Poker Alice Ivers, known for her good looks, which she used to distract men while playing, was generally a badass. She even let her brothel girls have free Sundays because of her religious beliefs. However, in 1913, some drunk soldiers disobeyed her “no work on Sunday” rule and started getting unruly. Using her .38, Alice fatally shot one and gravely injured another soldier. Although she spent some time in jail, she was released after claiming self-defence.
Until her death on February 27, 1930, Alice Ivers lived off her gambling prize money, which would amount to no less than tens of millions of dollars in today’s currency.
These are just ten of the most famous female gamblers, fiercely independent women who entered the otherwise man-dominated gambling world. As we look at their accomplishments, we can continue to salute their impact on the gambling industry.
What is a gambling problem?
Much like alcohol or drugs, gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system, which leads to addiction. Gambling disorder is the uncontrollable need to keep on gambling despite the risk you take. Many male and female compulsive gamblers are willing to risk something of value in the hope of getting a greater reward.
Who are the best female poker players?
Vanessa Selbst, Kristen Bicknell, Jennifer Harman, Maria Ho, Barbara Enright, Kathy Liebert, Liv Boeree, Annie Duke, Annette Obrestad and Maria Constanza Lampropulos are the most famous female gamblers and the best female poker players in the world.