Mark Ebner
Thursday April 24th 2014

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DEAD MONEY: Deep Inside the Biggest Celebrity Poker Games in Hollywood

Big Gamer Tobey Maguire gets more than his ego massaged

“Listen, here’s the thing: If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”
– Matt Damon’s first line in Rounders

A high-stakes floating poker game starring Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and a wealth of professional poker players, financial titans and household names became Hollywood’s worst-kept secret when a hedge fund manager who ran a $26 million Ponzi scheme was discovered with $5.2 million in canceled checks to Maguire, director Nick Cassavetes and 20 other players in the twice-weekly Texas Hold ‘Em games played over the past five years at the Four Seasons, the Peninsula, the Beverly Hills Hotel and various multimillion-dollar homes in L.A.’s high-priced canyons. Recently, a bankruptcy lawyer representing victims of the fund sued to recover assets, claiming a novel interpretation of the gambling laws. Although some of the extremely well heeled defendants have agreed to settle, Maguire stood pat until finally settling for pennies on his winnings ($80,000) last November, claiming a friendly poker game is just that, regardless of the six-figure buy-in or pots that often aggregate in the millions. But according to those who have paid to play, the games may be extralegal, highly capitalized, and are anything but friendly.

A photo-shopped Leo DiCaprio shills for a poker site.

Actor and lifelong poker player Kevin Pollak never played in Tobey’s game – so named because he is among its highest-profile participants and most faithful attendees. But he did play briefly with some of its mainstays, including Cassavetes, former nightclub impresario Chuck Pacheco (now Cassavetes’ producing partner) and Rick “Scum” Salomon, a featured player on Fox TV’s PokerStars Big Game, who once cleared Pamela Anderson’s quarter-million-dollar gambling debt in exchange for matrimonial favors. And he’s got the scars to prove it.

Funny man Kevin Pollak knew when to fold ‘em.

“Nick Cassavetes is one of the most dangerous players I’ve ever seen at a table,” Pollak recounts. “You have to have a certain level of fearlessness along with savvy. If you add in a reputation and deep pockets – that makes someone dangerous.”

Playing in a regular game that suddenly went from a thousand-dollar buy-in to $5000 virtually overnight, he found himself across the felt from Cassavetes and the others in what was now a full-contact sport.

“It was like being surrounded in the Old West by the best gunslingers in town, and I’m the Sheriff or something,” says Pollak, who was the original host of the long-running Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo. “I was like, ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat to get out of this.’ I only played with them for three weeks – three games – and then I said, ‘I’m done kidding myself; you guys are insane.’ To them, it’s all relative. They play in their regular game [Tobey’s], and this is how they play. It’s a tactic – an investment in the future. Nick actually pulled me aside – I got up to go to the restroom, and when I came out, he was waiting for me. He took me into a side room and said, ‘Dude, you’ve got to lighten up. You could kill this game if you stopped being so upset about everyone playing like dicks. This is how we play, and you could be killing these guys, because half of them don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. They just know how to play like a dick. You actually know how the game works, so stop being so pissed off at everyone for over-betting 3-2 off, and take their money.’”

(Cassavetes declined to be interviewed for this story, as did many of the luminaries contacted.)

Tobey’s game has been around at least since 2006, dating back to the VIP section of the Viper Room on Sunset sometime after the 1993 on-site death of River Phoenix and subsequent divestiture by original owner Johnny Depp. Among those who are rumored to have graced the game on occasion are poker pros Phil Laak, Layne Flack and Doyle Brunson, pornographer-felon Joe Francis and Hank Azaria, a multi-character voice on The Simpsons. (A story making the rounds had Azaria showing for the first time with $5,000 cash, not realizing they would take a personal check.)

Convicted felon Joe Francis sucks at poker.

According to the FBI, Brad Ruderman, the CEO of Ruderman Capital Partners and its sister hedge fund operating out of Beverly Hills, was a regular player at the exclusive money game and moveable fleece between 2006 and 2009, before the financial meltdown exposed the degree of his fiduciary deceptions. Ruderman is now serving 10 years in a Texas federal prison for multiple counts of wire fraud, investor advisor fraud and willful failure to file taxes. The whole thing might have been just a missed opportunity for an Entourage episode had not court-appointed bankruptcy trustee Howard Ehrenberg, whose job it was to recover assets for defrauded investors, settled on the novel approach of filing suit in March of this year against 22 defendants who were players in that game, all of whom were conveniently paid by check.

Among those named in the lawsuit are Maguire ($295,000 plus interest), real estate mogul Bob Safai ($846,000), private equity billionaire Alec Gores ($445,000), poker pros David Garden and Lawrence Hahn, Cassavetes ($73,800), Welcome Back, Kotter’s Gabe Kaplan ($62,000), Salomon ($23,000), Pacheco ($18,000), C-Note Records honcho Cody Leibel, Las Vegas hotelier Andrew Sasson and
Dan “Blitz” Bilzerian ($100,000), the bad boy pitchman for the Victory Poker website who has called Maguire a “nit” (i.e., a tight-fisted, controlling player) and offered to sit for an interview for $150,000.

“Blitz” Bilzerian has lost everything but his abs at poker tables.

Already, a number of these have settled for roughly 45 cents on the dollar – Safai for $360,000, Garden and Hahn for just over $300,000 apiece, and Salomon and Pacheco for ten and eight grand, respectively. Cassavetes responded with characteristic vigor, telling anyone who would listen he was “not paying them one fucking dime,” even as his attorney, Ronald Richards, confirmed they were in settlement negotiations. But Maguire did file papers indicating that he would fight the lawsuit, perhaps transferring his hardball table tactics to the courtroom. As an opening gambit, he produced checks to Ruderman for $168,000 in apparent losses, which he claims should cancel at least half of any eventual liability.

Everyone familiar with the game attests to a staggering amount of money that passes through the pot. The buy-in is reportedly $100,000, with blinds of $1,000-$2,000. (For those who don’t play, in a flop game with shared cards, automatic “blind” bets in predetermined amounts are placed by the first and second players in place of a traditional ante.) Legendary player Phil Hellmuth said on television in 2007 that Maguire had cleared $10 million playing poker in Hollywood.

In a game in which card and pot odds are widely available to anyone, where the field of battle has been reduced to separating the player from his prepared reactions, it turns out the best actor has a strategic edge. Add to that the competitive streak necessary to transmute actors into stars, not to mention the mile-wide obsessive streak that channels so many of them into drugs, alcohol and extreme behavior, and you often wind up with poker-playing machines.

Director Rod Lurie, whose remake of Straw Dogs opened in September, recalls that actor James Woods spent every night out at the casinos when they were shooting in Shreveport. “There was one time at a table where somebody was really drunk and made the crack, “You’re a great actor, but you really don’t know how to play poker.” And Jimmy went around the table and explained what the odds were on everyone, told what everyone had in their hand and proceeded to win the pot. And he was right on everything. It was just like out of Rounders.

“I used to play with Kevin [Pollak], and Kevin is the same way. The thing is that entertainers entertain, and they make you forget that you’re in a game. Kevin used to deal poker, and he’d do it as Alan Arkin or Woody Allen – he’d have us laughing, and before you knew it, you were out of money.”

Cards have always been an idle pleasure of the Hollywood rank and file, where waiting is the one constant in everyone’s job’s description. Old-timers say that on any given day in the card room of the Friar’s Club in Beverly Hills, $30,000 would change hands in the many poker, pinochle and gin rummy games. In fact, it was gin rummy, seemingly the most benign of the three, which led to the biggest scandal in the Club’s 60-year history when in 1962, a member named Maurice Friedman imported a scam he had perfected at Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel and elsewhere in Las Vegas: By mounting an optical lens in a peephole in the ceiling, and installing a sound man in the narrow crawlspace above, he could fleece the unsuspecting high-rollers below. The scam only came to light five years later when one of the conspirators was arrested in a similar operation and spilled the beans to a friendly FBI agent. (West Coast mob fixture Johnny Roselli also managed to muscle his way into the operation, for which he served five years in prison.) Hardest hit were Debbie Reynolds’ husband Harry Karl (with losses close to $1 million), singer Tony Martin, Zeppo Marx and comedian Phil Silvers, who said at the trial, “Let’s just say I’ll be hitchhiking home.”

World Poker Tour host Mike Sexton, a WSOP winner and unofficial ambassador for the game, says, “My partner Vince Van Patten, his dad [actor Dick Van Patten] played poker for 30 years with Hollywood celebrities. Don Adams played all the time. Kojak [Telly Savalas] played all the time. The Odd Couple guy [Walter Matthau], he played a lot.”

Pollak once played with Adams in a famous house game hosted by sports agent Norby Walters. “He probably had the most famous game of the last 20 years,” says Pollak. “This particular night, there was Sharon Stone, Sid Caesar, Charlie Durning, Eric Roberts, Mimi Rogers, and a late arriver was Don Adams. This was probably six months before his passing. He walks in – it’s Uncle Joe moving slow. It takes him ten minutes to get from the door to the table it seems like. Doesn’t say a thing after he sits down. It’s heartbreaking, really. There’s a round table of stories, but he’s not really participating. Finally Eric Roberts has to leave – he’s got an early flight to New York. He says his goodbyes. Now it’s like six minutes later, and it’s Don Adams’ turn to deal. He’s got to stand up so he can get the cards all the way around the table. And he finally speaks for the first time in three hours and says, ‘Is it just me, or is that kid actually better looking than his sister?’ Sharon Stone was crying, she was laughing so hard. It was a bombshell. The timing was sick. He set us up.”

Director Mike Binder’s regular Wednesday-night game routinely featured Larry David, Rod Lurie and local Fox weatherman Mark Thompson, who had to leave at 10:45 to do the weather. “We’d all sit there waiting for his poker reference in the local weather report,” Binder says. “‘It looks like the storm front is bringing in a full house rain.’”

“The big game was Johnny Carson’s game, with Chevy Chase and Steve Martin. That was the big game for years. And they used to have a really good game in the back, upstairs at Planet Hollywood. They would feed us and take care of us. It was awesome.”

Hank Azaria, Simpsons’ co-creator Sam Simon, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Macaulay Culkin have all hosted prominent house games in the past 20 years. But Maguire’s game is widely considered the biggest – both in stakes and in prestige.

Hank Azaria wonders if they’ll accept checks at Tobey’s game later.

For contemporary Hollywood, the film Rounders in 1998 did a lot to galvanize interest in poker, quoting emeritus figures like Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim and Jack King’s Confessions of a Winning Poker Player, and coining half a dozen aphorisms in the process: “Generally, the rule is, the nicer the guy, the poorer the card player”; “The game attracts the rich flounders, and they in turn attract the sharks”; and the sanguinary, “It’s like the Nature Channel: You don’t see the piranhas eating each other, do you?”

But it was roughly 2003, with the Stateside introduction of the pocket cam that could broadcast players’ hold cards, and its documentation of that year’s World Series of Poker win by Chris Moneymaker, the first world champion to ever qualify via an online gaming site, when this latest generation of Hollywood poker players came of age.

“It started around the time of the Moneymaker win,” says screenwriter Brandon Boyce (Apt Pupil), an avid poker player. “Ten years ago, everybody was playing backgammon.”

Maguire was one of those who people remember pulling in a pretty good supplementary income playing backgammon with the crew on his earlier pictures. Boyce also remembers Maguire approaching a table of a dozen people or more at a restaurant one time and saying, “I can set the line for how many [produced] writers are sitting at this table.” As Boyce remembers it, “I said, ‘Go ahead,’ and he said, ‘Four.’ I looked around the table, and he made the line perfectly. There were four produced writers at the table. He’s that good of a gambler.”

Professional poker poster boy Daniel Negreanu, whose wholesome Canadian image belies ruthlessness after the cards have been dealt, is credited with mentoring Maguire and other young Hollywood players, although he downplays his contributions. But like a lot of those queried, he expresses admiration for the actor’s poker skills, and describes an early experience facing Maguire across the felt.

“One of the first times I played with Tobey, he did something that was really sharp in a pot where he was bluffing,” Negreanu says. “He did something to act like he had the absolute nuts, and he knew I would pick up on it. And I saw it, and I was like, Okay, and I threw the hand away. And then he ended up showing me the bluff. He has the ability to fake weakness or strength, which is definitely an asset when you play poker.”

The dispute came down to what Ronald Richards (attorney for three of the defendants) calls “a disagreement of the law.” Basically, if it’s a friendly home game, it’s legal in Beverly Hills and L.A. County, including West L.A.; illegal in Los Angeles proper, but rarely prosecuted; and legal under California state law, which means local laws would be overturned were they prosecuted and successfully appealed. (Pollak once had a DA tell him, “Unless someone in the game is shooting heroin and the drug dealer comes to your house and there’s a shootout, there’s not a cop or court in the land that has time for your bullshit.”). However, a home game is illegal in any jurisdiction if it’s a “controlled game,” requiring municipal or state licenses. And the difference is the presence of something called “the rake.”

“Raking the pot” is where the house takes a fixed percentage of the winnings, presumably in exchange for expediting the hotel suite, tables, dealers, refreshments and any other amenities required by the players. Which is why the lawsuit is focused on $473,200 in 19 separate checks, ranging from $700 to low six figures, which Ruderman made out to the unlikely name “Molly Bloom” – apparently not a character in James Joyce’s Ulysses, but rather the 33-year-old sister of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver and former Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom. Miss Bloom is an “event planner” who used Ruderman’s half million dollars to take care of things like chips and peanuts, as well as the decidedly more exotic-sounding “massage girls.” (For the record, massage girls are common in high-end casino environments, often administering rubdowns right at the table, and are generally separate from prostitutes and their many florid varieties.)

Molly “The Poker Madam” Bloom

Labeled a “poker madam,” “sexy Manhattan poker princess” and a “stunning brunette” in the tabloids,” Bloom’s tale took a particularly lurid turn in June when it was reported that, after relocating to Manhattan in 2009 and organizing similar games for the financial community, two reputed Russian mobsters had “pushed her around a little bit.” More recently, Star Magazine reports that Alex Rodriguez, celebrated third basemen for the New York Yankees, played in at least two games in 2009 organized by Bloom – one in Miami, one at the L.A. home of record mogul Cody Leibel (one of those being sued), and both of which ended with players refusing to cover their substantial losses. A-Rod may face disciplinary actions stemming from these allegations, with further revelations almost certain to come. In legal documents, Bloom claims she “acted for the benefit of third parties,” transferred “a large percentage of such transfers to those third parties” and “served as a mere conduit for funds.”

“Trustees have in the past filed actions against casinos to get money that was used to cover markers,” says attorney Howard Ehrenberg, defending his legal strategy. “Under bankruptcy law, if the recipient of the money had no knowledge of where the money came from, than that can be a defense against having to return it. But in this case, because the game was illegal under California law, the recipients are not able to use the good faith defense. That’s the key distinction… It was not a friendly game – it was a game where the organizer was being compensated for running the game.”

Ehrenberg accepts Maguire’s argument that losses might offset his liability, but only if the money was paid directly to Capital Partners and not to Ruderman himself (as seems to be the case). He claims he tried to handle the matter discreetly and without publicity, but was rebuffed by counsel.

“She got tips for providing services contingent to a poker game,” says Richards, Bloom’s attorney. (He also represents Chuck Pacheco and Cassavetes) “That’s what an event planner does. It’s not an illegal game. At the time, Brad Ruderman was a well-respected hedge fund manager. There has never been a prosecution of the players in a home game, rake or not. And I could not find one against an operator. It’s very rare. By the way, the statute of limitations has long run out.”
Among the close-knit poker community, sentiment understandably runs strongly in favor of the players.
“You charge everyone $200 when they first come in, then the winners have an option to tip whoever the girl was that called the players to put the game together,” says Mike Sexton, who has played in that game. “They don’t rake the pots. If you want to tip the girl at the end when you win, then that’s what happens. To say it’s an underground casino and all that is nonsense.”

In fact, you would have a hard time finding serious poker players who even consider it a form of gambling.
“If poker was gambling, there wouldn’t be successful professional poker players,” says Lurie in a frequently expressed opinion. “It is absolutely a high-skill-level game.”

Nor do they readily accept the Vegas argument. Dan Sverdlin, a talent manager and poker semi-pro in his mid-fifties, says, “There’s been cases where guys have burglarized casinos, or they burglarize liquor stores, and then they drop the money back in the casinos ten minutes later. No one has ever gone after the money in a game before. They would have to be setting a precedent here.”

This is complicated by the fact that many of the alleged recipients of the tarnished funds are famous. “Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, Leo DiCaprio – these guys can’t go to a public casino setting and just sit down and play like a normal person,” says Sexton. “They are besieged by autograph and photograph hunters. Everybody would know their business; they’d be tweeting [actual hands] all over the place. These guys have to play in home games.”

And then there’s the Zen defense, best articulated by Pollak: “If I’m representing Tobey, I’d say, ‘Give me every single transaction that you lost in the six months after you received money from this dickhead. Let me show that those same funds went elsewhere.’ That’s the ebb and flow of poker.”

“Unless they’re keeping track of every single hand, which I doubt,” adds Joe Stapleton, host of the canceled Fox series The Big Game, “I don’t know where they’re getting their information. If Tobey Maguire wins $100,000 off Mr. Ponzi, he could realistically give $75,000 of it back to him on the next hand. Or to someone else at the table – the very same night, in the very same game. You’d be hard-pressed, having sat there for six hours, to then go back to try and piece together how much money was traded.”

One of the enduring questions surrounding this legal showdown is how a con man and common criminal could have gained access to the rarefied elite of Hollywood players. “This guy obviously was vouched for by somebody,” says Sexton. “Generally in house games, when someone brings someone to a game, they stand good for the guy, which means they gotta pay the losses if he doesn’t pay them. That’s generally the way it works.” Why wouldn’t a small community with something to lose – money or access – have exercised more due diligence?

The answer, says someone who has played in the game but refuses to be identified, is less complex than you might think. In fact, they say, that may be the whole point.

“In 2006, this game was created by a financier,” says the source that has not only played in the game since its inception, but also claims to have routinely staked in a name professional player. “The game was created at the Viper Room to blow up high-end L.A. citizens. But the reality is that there are a few L.A. citizens that can actually play Hold ‘Em. Affleck is not my friend, but he’s a good fucking player [as is Tobey]. They have a lot more money than me to toss around – at least they do now… It was a serious game. It wasn’t ever opulent; it was well maintained. There were ladies giving massages; there was always whatever you wanted; there was cocaine. Nobody fronted money [cash] – it wasn’t a money game. People wrote checks to each other.

“The first year was about boys who were in the mix. In 2007, it got to the point where it wasn’t just about the boys. There was a desire to have extraneous money that could be turfed. They wanted to bring boys in who could be trashed. They wanted to blow people up. These guys were trying to ruin money guys who were playing in this game – create some drama for themselves. That could only last for so long. There’s a secret senior money crew of people, four billionaires [who] are the guys who managed this game. I don’t know what the number was, but I know that it was so substantial that it was a primary consideration in their lives. [Soon] there were people showing up at that game – this was 2008 – who fucked the whole thing up by writing checks that were too big. It got too high-profile.

“I met Ruderman at the game,” says the source. “Met him – I never played with him. ‘Blah blah blah blah… I’m the man… blah blah blah.’ If your check clears, it’s easy to get into that game. They want someone who is going to be a hack.”

In the poker world, they have a name for this: Dead money. Money that is out on its feet; money that can’t distinguish between accident and agency, or a pristine watering hole and one where predators lay in wait.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but entire poker games are sometimes dealt around one guy,” says Stapleton, whose The Big Game (reconstituted online after the advent of Black Friday) takes this observation as its premise: A qualifying amateur is staked a hundred grand to face off against four pros as the designated target. “There’s a spot at the table, and you attack that spot. That’s what keeps the game going. You want that guy in to cannibalize and divide his money. Sometimes, a vouch might be, ‘Hey, this guy is dead money.’”

“Poker players certainly like to see drug dealers in games in Las Vegas because they don’t care where the money came from – they’re just happy to see a live one sitting at the table,” says Sexton. “Whether it’s Las Vegas, big-time tournaments, home games – the strong play the weak. You look for the limping gazelle.”

It doesn’t have to be as overt as what Stapleton calls “meta-gaming” – playing with such deep pockets that you’re virtually fearless. Nor do players need to physically gang up on a player and raise him out of a hand, just to chop up the pot between them later – a practice known as “whip-sawing” that, according to someone who has played with him, Cassavetes has outlawed in his own game. It can be as simple as what legendary Senior Poker Hall of Famer Robert “Chipburner” Turner calls “collusion,” an us-vs.-them mentality useful in separating the haves from the have-laters. And if you have any doubts that poker-lovers might sully their enthusiasm for the game by targeting the money, then go out to the Hustler Club in Gardena some night and watch Larry Flynt play for forty grand a hand against top poker professionals, and then wait till he rolls to the bathroom. The game stops cold.

The source names Bloom as the one who provided women and other amenities to lure high-rollers to the game. (“The guys I knew weren’t trying to get hooked up,” he says. “The guys who wanted to get hooked up with girls were the fall guys. We had girls.”) But counter to published reports, he identifies a man known only as Jeremiah as Molly’s employer and the true organizer of the events.

“Jeremiah is this host for that game,” he says. “He runs the full poker business in L.A., and no one has ever brought his name out. I don’t even know his last name: 5’9”, Mexican, bald head. He’s a huge Dodgers fan. Lovely guy, by the way. He ran the poker rooms with another guy, and they funded all of these fuckers. They were the credit line, because there was never ever cash fronted in those games. He was the collections. In fact, a big Chinese guy would show up at my house and be like, ‘Hey, can you write a check?’ So I wrote a check to Jeremiah and [his] people, and about a month later I get a call from the FBI. The FBI said, ‘This check went to buy twenty keys of cocaine.’

“The more interesting story is, my ex-girlfriend, who was the biggest hooker in the world – I actually enjoyed her being a hooker – she used to go down to this game in Newport Beach that was ten times bigger. The money they had there at that game was so criminal. I went down there once and she said, ‘You wanna take these guys’ money?’ I like to play cards, but I don’t play with people who are hit men, saying, ‘I’ll shoot you.’ These are not people I want to fuck with. And these were the guys that Tobey and the guys would get involved with. They got so aggressive trying to win money. They thought they were so above the game. I told my guy [a game backer], ‘I don’t want any part of the shit you guys are trying to pull off.’ That was the end of my relationship with them really. They all went nuts.”

He claims the games are still going on, and offered to get me a seat in a game at the Peninsula for a $100,000 buy-in. [He also recounted in excruciating detail an extremely bad beat where he lost $250,000 at the Four Seasons – he went down in flames with aces, the odds of which he calculates at 1.8% – and is convinced the game was fixed, but suggests the high-profile players don’t realize it. They’re there to bait the hook, and are convinced they’re really winning. He names Michael Bay, Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey, Jr., Brandon Davis, Megan Fox, Shannon Elizabeth, Mark Cuban and the late Steve Jobs as other household names who have played in the game, claims William Morris/Endeavor agents were frequent railbirds/looky-loos and says they once had to haul Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan out of the bathroom after he OD’ed on heroin.]

The name Jeremiah rang some bells in the poker community: Chipburner Turner says, “Last year there were a couple [of high-dollar games] out in Encino, and Jeremiah was the name that popped up running those games… Some of the press about [Tobey’s] game makes no sense at all. Just the handling of the books is a big headache unless you had a piece of the action.” And a high-end poker dealer says, “I can absolutely confirm that Jeremiah organizes games in L.A. The game I dealt was a large game – not as big as Tobey’s, but with some of the same people – and he organized and, as you say, financed the credit for it… To be more specific, what Jeremiah really does is guarantee that you’ll get paid if you win. If you ever once don’t pay, more than the threat of anything happening to you is the threat of never again being able to play in L.A. again.”

The dealer also identifies a large Malibu game as Jeremiah’s. He finds it highly unlikely that dealers would be cheating, since the Jeremiahs are getting their money off the top and there’s no way they would jeopardize the golden goose. Dan Sverdlin has played in that game, and often steers juicy money their way. “They’re a lot lower limit games than Tobey’s, but they have plenty of billionaires there who will play you heads-up for 60 grand. Rock bands, billionaire industrialists, everyone. They have a chef. The girls will show you their tits and rub your back, and I imagine that if you gave them enough money they’d do other things. They have a rake. They pay me a finder’s fee for sending someone up, and there’s a lot of money locked in a cabinet.”

But someone who once organized one of the A-list Hollywood games gives Bloom her due. “Molly was the queen of poker in L.A. before Jeremiah or I or anyone else had games,” he says. “She was around longer than all of us. The big game [Tobey’s game] was hers, not Jeremiah’s; he had his own games. And it started out as a no rake game, but eventually she monetized that game, and she was run out of town for raking pots without the players knowing, until someone figured it out. She was cutting out $300 on every pot, and demanding tips of ten percent of the winnings. I don’t know how she’s gotten out of this mess.” And before we feel too bad for Tobey Maguire, whose Spidey sense seems to have failed him, the former rival gamekeeper reports, “He won $4 million in a game last week. He hasn’t cooled down at all.”

When I called the number my source gave me, a man named Jeremiah answered and responded to my mention of poker and the lawsuit. When I identified myself as a journalist, he asked me to text message me my contact information, and hung up. Jeremiah never called.

Ronald Richards also confirmed the existence of Jeremiah, saying he was a competitor of Bloom’s and not involved with the game in question. “She would say she was in the same business as Jeremiah, though,” he says.

A poker room floor manager surveying a half-empty card room on a Saturday night at Hollywood Park Casino, where Maguire has played a number of times, tells me, “These high-end home games are definitely cutting into our action.” When asked whether such home games are guilty of raking the pot, he grows suddenly animated. “They’re cutting thousands a night,” he says. “Thousands!”

Boys will be boys. And with DiCaprio recently topping the Forbes list of highest-paid actors (with $77 million), and he and Maguire starring in an upcoming remake of The Great Gatsby, the classic Fitzgerald novel of Jazz Age wealth, abandon and the retroactive wages of sin, the tendency to blow off top-dollar steam while toeing the line of social propriety is not likely to stop any time soon. After all, one of the perennial rules of show business has to be: If you want to have good friends, they’re going to cost you.

“One of my bigger theories about poker,” says Stapleton, “and this may be especially true for Tobey, is that poker is a great way for dudes to hang out without really getting to know each other. You don’t really find out what people’s hopes and dreams are, and you don’t really get attached. I mean, you’re buddies and you’re chummy, but Tobey is a super private dude, from what I understand. He doesn’t give interviews, even though people think it’s a big deal when a huge star plays in a tournament. I think for him, it’s a social thing where he doesn’t have to let people in.”

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  2. [...] Mark Ebner goes deep inside celebrity poker games in Hollywood. Hollywood Interrupted [...]

  3. [...] difficult to single out the best part of Mark Ebner's fascinating new Hollywood poker-culture exposé, but Kevin Pollak's true confessions are up there: "Nick [Cassavetes] actually pulled me aside [...]

  4. [...] 0 comments It’s difficult to single out the best part of Mark Ebner’s fascinating new Hollywood poker-culture exposé, but Kevin Pollak’s true confessions are up there: “Nick [Cassavetes] actually pulled [...]

  5. [...] Pollak, Hank Azaria, Tobey McGuire, and others. An in-depth essay by Mark Ebner on his renouned “Hollywood Interrupted” site, interviews a male who orderly high stakes games among a glitterati, and that non-film [...]

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