The Story Behind the Joker in Playing Cards

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Ever since Joaquin Phoenix won an Academy Award for his eponymous role in the movie “Joker,” some players want to know the story behind the Joker in playing card decks. For over 150 years, manufacturers have included the Joker in their products. The joker card is an American invention.

In a time when several games used trump or wild cards, playing stock designers chose the “Jolly Joker” as a special one that could be used for these purposes. Several misconceptions exist about their origins, so this article explains the story and evolution of this famous character.

For instance, many believe the Fool in tarot decks is related to it, though that is not the case. Tarot decks first appeared in the 15th century, at a time when jesters or fools were still a profession. To clear up any confusion, let’s take a look at its real origin.

When Did the Joker Appear in Playing Cards?

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Some websites suggest the term comes from the card game Euchre, but that isn’t so. The name “joke” had been around for centuries, while the word itself – defined as someone who jokes – had been used for generations. Its inclusion probably stems from Euchre, though.

They first appeared in decks of playing cards in the United States in the 1860s, at a time when Euchre rules were changing. Around that time, Euchre players began using house rules with an extra trump card called the “Best Bower.” The Best Bower was the highest trump card in the deck.

In 1867, Russell, Morgan & Company (now The United States Playing Card Company – the owner of Bicycle, Hoyle, Aviator, and Aristocrat) began operations in Cincinnati, Ohio. Designers in that era began to print it as the 53rd and 54th cards in the deck, giving players options for wild cards and top trumps.

Companies originally called these the “Jolly Joker” – later shortened. The Ace of Spades often contained the manufacturer’s logo. By the 1880s, all major manufacturers printed those in their decks.

Casino Games with Joker Cards

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With thousands of land-based casinos around the world and even more reputable online casinos as those reviewed by, you might find any casino game that uses it. Below is a list of the online casino games you’re most likely to find using it.

  • The Joker in Online Slots: It’s common for slot machines to use the Ace-King-Queen-Jack-Ten for reel symbols. It’s less common for it to appear as an icon, but several games use the image as a wild symbol. Specific online slots have it as their theme: 20 Reel Slots from EGT and Fire Slots from Play’n GO are two examples. Batman & The Slots from Ash Gaming is another example.
  • The Joker in Video Poker: Video poker converts 5-card draw poker into an electronic gaming machine, so several variants use it. Examples include Joker Wild and Deuces & Video Poker. As you might imagine, these games use it like a wild one.
  • The Joker in Blackjack: In land-based casinos, you’ll find occasional games of blackjack that use it. The most common variation is a game that uses six decks and adds three of those to the deck. It acts as a wildcard for anything between a two and an Ace. If the dealer receives the card, it is a dead card and discarded. Since it most often replaces the Ace, the house edge is affected roughly +0.3% when this house rule is in effect. Casinos in Colorado and Oklahoma are known to use this rule.
  • The Joker in Other Table Games: A few versions of the Casino War use a joker. Pai Gow Poker also has a variant named Joker’s Wild Pai Gow Poker. Any table poker game might use it, but it’s not common.

The Joker in Movies

The Joker is one of only two movie characters played by two actors who won Academy Awards for their portrayals. Heather Ledger won the 2008 Best Supporting Actor for his role in “The Dark Knight,” while Joaquin Phoenix won the 2019 Best Actor for “Joker.”

Here is a little treat from what it looks like if he were a villain:

Similarly, Marlon Brando won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Actor for the role of Vito Corleone in “The Godfather,” while Robert DeNiro won the 1974 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for playing a younger version of Vito Corleone in “The Godfather Part II.”

The Joker in Pop Culture

It first appeared in the debut issue of Batman in April 1940. Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson each receive credit for creating the iconic character, though their accounts differ. Saved by editorial intervention in this first appearance, he’s been the arch-enemy of Batman ever since.

Since then, it has appeared in comics, live-action tv series, animated series, video games, and movies. Besides Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix, the role has been played by Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson. Cameron Monaghan played it in the live-action tv show Gotham. In contrast, a series of voice actors have played the role, including Mark Hamill, Kevin Michael Richardson, Troy Baker, John DiMaggio, Jeff Bennett, Brent Spiner, and Zach Galifianakis.