The first-ever Bitcoin poker game on record took place in March of 2010. That’s 14 months after the Bitcoin blockchain launched in January of 2009.
What’s crazy is the first-ever poker game featured a buy-in of 50 BTC, which today would be worth more than $550,000 USD. The winner in that game walked away with 1,000 bitcoins, or more than $11 million USD by today’s valuation.
The important part however is not what the value of the buy-in was relative to today. It’s the fact that for the first time ever, gambling was established as a use case for cryptocurrency. It makes sense, because Bitcoin after all is simply a unit of account, just like collecting poker chips. The players in possession of the most units get to maintain the most leverage and whoever ends up with all of the units at the end of the game wins the cash (or in this case, cashless) prize.
The First Bitcoin Poker Game Originated on an Old Forum
Before there was CoinDesk, CoinTelegraph or even Bitcoin Gambling Guide, there was BitcoinTalk.org, the go-to online community forum for nerds and revolutionaries alike who needed a place to ask questions, get answers and ultimately be part of a community that today we refer to as the cryptocurrency community.
The first user on BitcoinTalk to ever discuss running a Bitcoin-friendly poker game is actually known for something else. “BitcoinFX” is known for creating the first-ever on-ramp where regular government-backed money could be exchanged for Bitcoin. That exchange wasn’t made on a fancy trading platform by the way. They were made strictly via email. Imagine that for a second. An entire industry now exists where cryptocurrency businesses in nations all over the world offer investors the ability to trade their local currency for Bitcoin. It all started with just emails!
Why the Buy-In Was a Whopping 50 BTC
Imagine throwing down $500,000 worth of Bitcoin on a poker game today. If you did that and made it known publicly, you’d probably become a celebrity in your local area for taking such a big gamble using a currency that most people still don’t fully understand even as adoption grows. In 2010, 50 BTC wasn’t worth anywhere near $500,000.
But the reason the buy-in for that first poker game was set at 50 BTC is because the coinbase reward for successfully mining Bitcoin at the time was 50 BTC. That amount sounds impressive today, but it was worthless back then. Not just because the raw market value of one Bitcoin at the time was just $0.003 USD (meaning that 50 BTC were only worth 15 cents). It’s also because that amount of BTC was accessible to anybody with a personal computer.
Keep in mind that while at the present day, mining new bitcoins requires large-scale computing power and plenty of available space inside of a warehouse, in 2010, all the average Bitcoin poker player needed was a laptop and an internet connection.
Poker and Bitcoin Literally Go Hand-In-Hand
The first poker games on record involving Bitcoin saw participants walk away with 325 BTC and 600 BTC respectively. But those games did much more than put a little bit more digital currency in a Bitcoin wallet. They forever married gambling and Bitcoin. Not just in proving that gambling could be a viable use case for a decentralized currency, but because the founder himself apparently had a thing for poker.
Poker is in Bitcoin’s Code
You read right! Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious author of Bitcoin’s whitepaper actually included references to poker in Bitcoin’s original code. It’s not exactly a coincidence that early poker players talked about creating a poker friendly client that could accept buy-ins without having to use emails.
To many investors (including both supporters and detractors of cryptocurrencies), banking on Bitcoin was always going to be a gamble. It makes sense then that Satoshi clearly had ambitions of making it easier to gamble with Bitcoin in a trustless fashion.
Whether the average crypto enthusiast knows that or not is almost besides the point. But the world’s first ever Bitcoin poker tournament marks the beginning of arguably the most valuable and obvious use case for cryptocurrencies. Gambling.