Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Poker’s Stick-to-it-iveness

Spider-Man, caught in a webNot surprisingly, Tobey Maguire decided to settle out of court in that poker-related lawsuit involving the famous “Hollywood home games.” You’ve heard that story, haven’t you? The other one in which “poker” and “Ponzi scheme” both keep coming up?

The lawsuit had been brought by the victims of Bradley Ruderman, a corrupt hedge fund manager who bilked clients out of millions via what has been described as a Ponzi scheme.

Ruderman had participated in the Hollywood poker games for about three years (from 2006 to 2009), losing consistently with his clients’ money. While it is probably impossible to say exactly how much Ruderman lost in the games -- the precise details of which have mostly remained closely-guarded -- most reports suggest his losses to have exceeded $5 million.

Maguire has long been rumored to have been a big winner in the Hollywood games, perhaps even the biggest. In fact, Mr. Name Dropper himself Phil Hellmuth once said on a 2007 episode of “Poker After Dark” that Maguire had won at least $10 million in them.

Ruderman was finally nabbed and pleaded guilty to wire fraud, investment-adviser fraud, and failure to pay taxes. He’s now in prison, serving a 10-year sentence, and has also been ordered to pay back more than $27 million to his victims.

Back in the spring, lawsuits were filed against something like two dozen different individuals, all of whom were said to have won money from Ruderman in the games. Those targeted included Gabe Kaplan, Nick Cassavetes, Rick Salomon (of “1 Night in Paris” notoriety), and others.

Some -- including Kaplan -- have already settled out of court, usually for a fraction of the amount sought. In Maguire’s case, the suit claimed he’d taken over $311,000 from Ruderman at the tables, but the settlement was only for $80,000. A judge will still have to approve the deal in court next month, but odds are the Spider-Man star will successfully wiggle free from this entanglement.

While the legality of the home games is being questioned in the lawsuits -- see this Hollywood Reporter feature for details -- it’s unclear whether these efforts to sue players to recover money they won in the games would succeed if the cases went to trial. What is clear, though, is that folks like Maguire aren’t interested in seeing their names continuing to be highlighted in tabloids in connection with things like “fraud” or “lawsuits” or “Ponzi schemes.”

Or, one might as well add, “poker.”

Recall how Maguire shunned the spotlight at the World Series of Poker back when he was regularly playing in events, including in 2007 when he went fairly deep in the Main (finishing 292nd)? No, the celebs generally don’t want to be linked with the game, even those who are somewhat dedicated to it like Maguire. They just don’t want “poker” following ’em around. Thus are these cases being settled out of court.

I guess in the end Maguire probably views the $80K as hefty rake taken from whatever he’s won from the games. But I suppose there’s another “rake” when it comes to poker, a risk to one’s status among those who view the game as an objectionable pursuit or pastime.

That’s thanks in part to poker’s legacy as a game for outlaws, giving poker a reputation that has long been kind of, well...


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