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The History of Pontoon

Many people consider pontoon to be a variation of blackjack. In fact, some casinos even refer to the game as "pontoon blackjack." This is no surprise, since both games aim for a hand value of 21, with both games also having similar rules. Most times, the betting rules, limits, and payouts are very similar as well. However, both games are actually variations of the game Ventiuna, or Twenty-one, which is a game thought to have originated in Spain in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Ventiuna was popular in Spain, and eventually found its way to France, where it was called Vingt-et-un, which is French for twenty-one.

The French Connection

Vingt-et-un was popular in the court of Louis XV, though it was not a game limited only to the nobility. It is even said that Vingt-et-un was a favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte, and was one of the games he played to pass the time during his exile in St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean which was, at the time of Napoleon's exile, a property of the British. By this time, Vingt-et-un had spread through most of Europe, and it possible that the British troops guarding the island of St. Helena played a variation of this game as well, while the once-Emperor spent his days in exile. What is known for sure is that the game, which would eventually be called pontoon, eventually became popular among the armies of the English-speaking nations, and most of these armies played at least one variation of the game by the twentieth century.

Pontoon in The Army

It is highly probable that the name “pontoon” originated at this time, from the armed forces among which the game was very popular. A pontoon is actually a flotation device, often used on flat-bottomed boats to increase their buoyancy and stability. While these boats had various uses, one such use was to secure floating bridges, or pontoon bridges. These temporary bridges were often used by armies to help move troops and supplies over rivers. Of course, this is all speculation, and the true origins of the name pontoon are currently unknown. While pontoon was played all around the world among the armed forces, Twenty-one emigrated to the United States, and found its way to saloons and casinos in Las Vegas. It eventually became blackjack in the 1930's, where it gained a lot of popularity. Pontoon, on the other hand, found its way to casinos in Australia, and other former British colonies.

Pontoon Today

Given it's more casual roots, pontoon has had no governing body to codify the rules of the game. Because of this, often casinos that offer pontoon have different variations of the game available, and others may even have a completely different game also called pontoon. Most agree, however, that the game pontoon refers to the game that originated from twenty-one, and spread through the world thanks in part to its popularity in the British armed forces. Today, pontoon can be found in European and Australian casinos, though it is rare to nonexistent in Las Vegas. However, it is possible for players who want to play pontoon to do so without having to travel to Europe or Australia, as many online casinos have pontoon available among their selection of games. Today, despite the fact that blackjack is by far the more popular game, pontoon has its share of popularity, especially among non-US gamblers, thanks in part to online casinos.

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