There are currently four legal live West Virginia poker rooms. But what may not be known about West Virginia is it reportedly was home to the world’s longest-running game of poker.
According to “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” the game took place at the Dunglen Hotel in Thurmond during the early 1900s and lasted for an astonishing 14 years.
Dunglen Hotel the perfect hub for West Virginia poker
Thurmond, where the game took place, was once known as the Dodge City of the East. And it was once one of the busiest towns in the US. It thrived thanks to the region’s booming coal industry and the rail lines that brought wealthy businessmen to the area.
The railroads led from Thurmond straight to the mines in New River Gorge. Workers would live in houses near the mines; there also was a company store.
Since the miners were paid in scrip, they could only spend the money at company stores. Getting merchandise into these stores was a major draw for traveling salesmen.
The town of Thurmond had a population of 200 to over 400 people in its heyday. The town’s founder, Captain W.D. Thurmond, was a strict man who wanted to run the town the way he saw fit. He disliked the morals of the new arrivals in the growing town.
Captain Thurmond banned alcohol on the land he controlled within the town, but that still left a large section where it was legal. The McKells, the next most powerful family in town, had no problem with alcohol and other vices.
The bars on the McKell side of town in Thurmond never closed, making it a popular destination for gamblers. And the McKells controlled the Dunglen Hotel and the area around it.
This is what made the hotel the perfect hub for gambling, drinking, and other illicit activities.
Details of the 14-year poker game are lost to time
Built in 1901, the Dunglen Hotel was located across the New River from Thurmond, in the Southside district outside the town limits.
The three-story, 100-room hotel featured a wraparound deck and massive ballroom where parties were held and bands would play, sometimes all night.
The hotel was also a place where coal barons would gather to make business deals, including sales of entire mines.
Poker was very popular in the area. The hotel’s game room reportedly had a wide variety of games available to patrons, and gambling would take place at all hours of the day. This was where the 14-year game of poker was reported to have taken place.
Not much about the game itself is known beyond the significant length of time it lasted. The players, when exactly it took place, the witnesses, and other details have all been lost to time.
Also lost to time is the Dunglen Hotel itself. The structure met its demise after only 29 years of operation on the night of July 22, 1930, in a fire possibly set by arsonists.
It is reported that there was an estimated $100,000 in losses.
What happened to Thurmond?
After World War I, the industry around Thurmond began to decline, partially due to the emergence of automobiles as a major form of transportation. The coal mines closed as they became worked out, and the destruction of the Dunglen Hotel delivered another fatal blow to the town.
By 1940, most businesses had left Thurmond, and trains no longer stopped in town, as the engines no longer needed coal and water. According to the 2020 US Census, a total of five people still call Thurmond home.
Over the years, some businesses have popped up where the Dunglen Hotel once stood, incorporating the remaining brick foundation or other materials as part of the modern buildings.
Currently, the National Park Service owns facilities built on the former location of the Dunglen Hotel. The Park Service uses some of what’s left of the hotel to oversee New River Gorge National Park.
Poker in West Virginia today
Live and online poker are currently legal in West Virginia, although there are no online poker sites currently in operation within the state. As for live poker, there are four rooms operating in the state.
The tables at these casinos feature one or more of these poker games:
- No limit Texas hold’em
- Limit Texas hold’em
- Pot limit Omaha
- Pot limit Omaha hi-lo
- Limit Omaha hi-lo
- Seven-card stud
West Virginia is also home to some great poker players. The top five winners in live poker from the state have a combined total of around $45 million in winnings.
Jason Koon of West has won over $40 million in his career. He is currently seventh on the world’s all-time money list. He currently resides in Vancouver, Canada.
Lee Childs of Charles Town is second to Koon, with over $1.5 million in winnings. Steve Merrifield of Fairmont is third in West Virginia’s all-time rankings with over $1.3 million.
Taylor Wilson of Wheeling and Kenneth Hicks round out the top five with $841,617 and $830,939 respectively.