Celebrities bitten by the Poker Bug

The last decade has seen poker swell in popularity, going from a game played mostly around kitchen tables and in smoky casinos into a pastime that millions around the world enjoy. Televised poker on ESPN and other channels has brought many new players to the game, including some very well-known athletes and celebrities — including some who have starred in some of the top five classic casino movies of all time such as Matt Damon.

Many celebrities got their start in poker playing in home games with friends but then decided to try poker on its biggest stage, with the World Series of Poker drawing plenty of star power each and every year. Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon are just a few of the Hollywood stars who have played in the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker Main Event. And they’ve not just shown up and treated it as a publicity stunt, with Maguire taking his poker game very seriously and winning almost $40,000 in 2007 (and over $200,000 total in his poker tournament career).

Jen Tilly is another star who’s leaped into the poker world head-first, dating poker pro Phil Laak and playing in poker tournaments around the globe. She’s had plenty of success as well, winning nearly $700,000 in tournaments including winning a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2005 and collecting nearly $125,000 for winning a tournament at the Bellagio (a favorite spot for poker players which is consistently at the top of casino reviews for Las Vegas hotels) in 2010.

Not all news about celebrities playing poker is good, however, as a scandal broke in 2011 that saw Tobey Maguire and others embroiled in a lawsuit stemming from private poker games. Maguire and other stars played in high stakes private games with former hedge fund manager Brad Ruderman, who lost millions of investor’s funds in the games to Maguire and others. Attorneys attempting to recover the funds have sued Maguire and other winners to have the money returned, showing the world a slightly darker side to poker and the stars that enjoy playing it.

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