From Aztecs to Aces: A Brief History of Poker in Mexico

Poker is intrinsically linked to the culture and online poker casino culture of the United States of America. If you haven’t looked at a map recently, Mexico shares a very big border with the US. In fact, it’s 1,954 miles long. As such, people and cultural assets have swapped across both nations. So how has poker been received in Mexico or does it have its own roots in the card game? Also, what is the stance on poker in Mexico in today’s world?

Did the Aztecs Gamble?

Simply put, yes they did. The Aztec people played all manner of games in their spare time for either amusement or budding financial gain. While the currencies back then were very different, a win could still see them much better off. The most common of wagers would be fresh produce, jewels, precious stones, or even wives. Patolli is one of the oldest games in the world and during the Aztec era, played by would-be deities and paupers alike. The game mechanics included both luck and strategy much like poker, so even while they lacked a 52-card deck, they still employed very similar behaviors while gambling. There were other games played by the Aztecs that also employed gambling like hipball, Flyers, and the ritualistic pole-climbing, and that’s evolved to what we see today in online poker with real players and cash which is growing in popularity every single day.

Mexican Card Games

While the initial concept of playing cards is said to have originated in China with games like Mahjong (despite being more commonly associated with tiles), colonialism and explorers still spread the ideas far and wide. This led to Mexican gamers forming their own cards which would have set the foundation for other games including online poker.

Conquian is a prime example of this which has often been said to have given birth to Rummy. While Lotería is a card game that resembles a lot of elements from contemporary bingo and lottery games. More recently, Mexican gamblers have derived their own versions of American games. One of the most prevalent is Mexican Poker. The game resembles a five-card stud but is played with only 41 cards including a joker card.

Other Mexican (or Mexican-influenced) card games include Malila, which is based on tricking your opponent. Ocho Locho, often known as crazy eights, and a variation on Whiskey Poker called La Viuda.

Contemporary Online Poker in Mexico

So how do the contemporaries of Mexico City and beyond get their poker fix? Well, just like everyone everywhere else, going online is one of the preferred options. Unlike its neighbor to the north, Mexico celebrates very lax rules on online poker as almost any company that wants to set up there, can do so. The laws are fairly unrestricted however people signing up may require some form of Mexican government-issued identification document. This is prevalent on the bigger sites like GGPoker and PokerStars especially. Meaning those who travel from the US for a Mexican holiday to play online poker could be subject to disappointment as they won’t be able to verify their account. However, that doesn’t stop some Americans from simply moving to Mexico.

Land-Based Casinos make up Tourism Dollars

The Mexican tourist board appreciates that a lot of visitors head to Mexico with a varied itinerary. Whether it’s sipping tequila, eating delicious tacos, wild spring break partying, or sitting at a resort beach – Mexico enjoys a wide range of visitors. Given that the nation has some of the more forgiving and liberal stances on gambling it seizes the opportunity to attract foreign visitors to its land-based casinos. Cancun and Tijuana are littered with various casinos which welcome holidaymakers as a result.

Mexican Professionals, WSOP, and Influence from the North

Given that Poker has been around for a while now in Mexico there are a few players who stand out as particularly good at the world level. Juan Carlos Alvarado, Luis Velador, and Angel Guillen are probably the top three Mexican players (based on overall money earned) but new players can always emerge.

That is only more likely with the advent of WSOP events and tournaments now set to take place in Mexico. There were supposed to take place a few years earlier however the events didn’t meet national requirements for a venue. Mexico has limited rules on poker but one strictly observed one is that any poker-related activity must occur in a registered casino.

In fact, the WSOP has had a few instances of issues with hosting events in Mexico. In 2022 they were forced to pull the plug on a WSOP International Circuit event in Monterrey. This was because the proposed venue, the Cintermex Convention Center of Monterrey was not ratified as a proper venue for the event by the local authorities. Therefore it was postponed and rescheduled to take place in 2023 at the Jubilee Casino, also in Monterrey.


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