Poker is enjoyed by people from all walks of life, including celebrities. Many famous Hollywood stars and athletes have taken up poker over the years. Naturally, some of these celebrities earn sponsorship deals with online poker sites due to their mainstream appeal. But not all of these stars are really that into poker.
Instead, they’re more interested in collecting money from their deals. I can’t blame these celebs for taking advantage of an opportunity. But it’s always nice when sponsored players actually like the game for more than just a big paycheck. The following 11 celebrities all enjoy poker beyond just any potential sponsorship deal.
1 – Jennifer Tilly
Jennifer Tilly is a longtime actress who first gained mainstream attention when she starred in Woody Allen’s Bullets over Broadway in 1994. She’s since gone on to star in a number of other films, including The Getaway (1994), Bound (1996), Liar Liar (1997), Stuart Little (1999), Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000), Monsters Inc. (2001), and the Haunted Mansion (2003). Tilly has also become iconic in the horror film industry for big roles in the Child’s Play franchise and Bride of Chucky.Tilly’s talents go beyond just acting, because she also does voice work for cartoons. She famously portrays the voice of Bonnie Swanson on Family Guy. She got into poker during the boom years in the mid-2000s. Tilly managed to win the 2005 WSOP Ladies’ No-Limit Hold’em tournament along with $258,625.Thanks to her acting chops and poker skills, Tilly has appeared on a number of poker TV shows. She’s also managed to cash in numerous tournaments throughout her career. At one point, Tilly’s says that she was more interested in playing poker than acting. But she’s since cooled off that dream after competing against some of the game’s best.
“I’m not giving up poker entirely – gambling is an addiction after all,” she said.“I’m just going to treat it more like a hobby and less like a career.” While Tilly may no longer be pursuing a professional poker career, she still dedicates a lot of time to the game. She also has $992,501 in live tournament winnings.
2 – Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck is one of the most-accomplished actors of his generation, winning two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes. His acting career kicked off in 1984, when he starred in the PBS educational series The Voyage of Mimi.He first iconic film role came in the 1993 movie Dazed and Confused. Affleck would gain worldwide fame when he and childhood friend Matt Damon co-wrote and co-starred in Good Will Hunting (1997). He continued building his star by appearing in Pearl Harbor (2001), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Daredevil (2003), and Gone Baby Gone (2007). More recently, Affleck has moved into producing films. He’s served as producer for Argo (2012), Justice League (2017), and Batman (TBA).
Affleck has always maintained a love of gambling throughout his acting and producing days. He’s become both a serious blackjack (card counting) and poker player. His biggest accomplishment in the poker world includes winning the 2004 California State Poker Championship along with $356,400.
He also participated in an infamous underground Hollywood poker ring in the early 2010s. He and other famous celebrities were loosely portrayed in the 2017 movie Molly’s Game, which revolved around this wild ring. Rumors suggest that Affleck’s poker and overall gambling habits played a role in his failed marriage with Jennifer Garner. Affleck insists that the rumors are untrue, but many tabloids suggest otherwise.
3 – Tobey Maguire
Tobey Maguire is best known for playing Peter Parker in the Spiderman trilogy from 2002-2007. He’s also played lead roles in the Great Gatsby(2013) and Brothers (2009). Maguire was part of the same poker ring that Affleck played in. And if sources are correct, Spiderman may have been the best player at the table. He allegedly won between $30 and $40 million through the poker games. If true, this would make him one of the biggest – if not the biggest – cash game winners ever. Word got out on Maguire’s poker winnings after a crooked hedge fund manager named Bradley Ruderman was sued by his former clients. Ruderman lost millions of dollars through the ring, much of which came from defrauded customers’ pockets.
An investigation into the poker ring discovered that Maguire won a massive amount. He and other participants were then sued by the clients, who were trying to recoup their money. Maguire and other celebrities settled out of court for a smaller value than the plaintiffs were seeking. But after the settlement, it’s likely that Maguire walked away from the poker ring with millions in profits.
4 – Jason Alexander
Jason Alexander is best known for playing George Costanza in the TV series Seinfeld. He’s known for his role as Phillip Stuckey in the movie Pretty Woman (1990) and the lead voice role in the animated series Duckman (1994-1997). In addition to his voiceover and acting work, Alexander is also an accomplished stage actor. He’s appeared in multiple musicals, including Jerome Robbin’s Broadway in 1989.As for poker, Alexander started playing the game when he was still in high school. He claims that this made him a little cocky when he began competing against better players in tournaments. He got a full dose of what it’s like to go against a real pro when Phil Hellmuth offered him a lesson. Alexander admits that he was quite overwhelmed after the 15-time WSOP champion tutored him.
Luckily, he didn’t let this scare him away from the game. Alexander has since gone on to appear on Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown and NBC’s National Heads-Up Poker Championship. These appearances along with his overall love of the game earned Alexander a PokerStars sponsorship in the late 2000s. But it’s clear that he enjoyed the game long before this.
5 – Neymar Jr.
Neymar Jr. is widely regarded as one of the world’s best football players. He’s especially known for his incredible dribbling, pacing, and finishing skills. Neymar has scored 59 goals in 94 Brazilian national appearances since appearing on this stage at age 18. He’s the third-highest scorer in Brazilian history, trailing only Ronaldo and Pele. The famed Brazilian National team member and Paris Saint-Germain striker is also an avid poker player.The 26-year-old first started gracing poker headlines in the mid-2010s. He was seen playing cash games with his friend, poker pro Felipe Ramos. Neymar frequently hosts home games at his mansion. He also steps out into live tournaments occasionally, as evidenced by his sixth place finish in the 2018 Brazilian Series of Poker Sao Paulo Main Event.
Not surprisingly, Neymar landed a lucrative sponsorship deal with PokerStars in 2015. He became the subject of many of their ad campaigns for a while. Of course, Neymar was playing poker years before he became a member of Team PokerStars. He still continues enjoying the game when he’s not on the pitch.
6 – Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, having won 28 medals. The retired swimmer holds records for the most gold medals (23), most gold medals won in individual events (13), and most overall medals in individual events (16).He broke another record when he captured eight goldsat the 2008 Beijing Games. This topped the previous mark of seven gold medals, which was set by Mark Spitz in 1972. Phelps also holds record times in the men’s 100 meter butterfly, 200 meter butterfly, and 400 meter individual medley. He previously held top marks for the 200 meter freestyle and 200 meter individual medley.
Due to his incredible Olympic career, it’s no surprise that Phelps immediately drew the poker world’s attention when he started showing up to casinos. He roomed with poker pro Jeff Gross at the University of Michigan. And the two have been frequently spotted at poker rooms together.
It was sometimes speculated that Phelps would sign a major sponsorship deal and prove to be a catalyst for poker’s popularity. This never happened, but he’s continued playing the game whenever he gets a chance. He’s accumulated several live tournament cashes throughout his career and has $8757 in live earnings.
7 – James Woods
James Woods has been in acting since the 1980s and is well known for his villainous roles. This helped him win two Academy Awards, including one for Best Actor in Salvador and another for Best Supporting Actor in Ghosts of Mississippi. He’s also earned three Emmy awards for the animated series Hercules, and the TV movies My Name is Bill W. and Promise.Woods has also voiced characters for the well-known animated series The Simpsons and Family Guy. He even did the voice of Mike Toreno in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Woods initially became well known in poker as the face of the online site Hollywood Poker. Therefore, much of his initial poker interest came from a sponsorship deal.
Hollywood Poker went defunct in 2012. But this didn’t squash his love of the game, because he’s continued playing in live tournaments and cash games ever since. Woods has racked up a large number of small cashes over the years, which has helped him earn $306,984 in live tournaments.
8 – Michael Greco
Michael Greco is a British actor who’s best known for playing Beppe di Marco on the soap opera EastEnders. He became so iconic for this role that he earned the British Soap Opera award for Sexiest Man Alive in both 1999 and 2000, along with Radio Times’ award for Sexiest Male Soap Opera Star Ever. Since becoming famous through EastEnders, he’s appeared in the independent film Naked in London, a pop musical version of Aladdin,and Celebrity Love Island (2005).Greco got his start in poker after being mentored by “Mad” Marty Wilson. He started off playing cash games, but has since exclusively focused on live tournament play. He’s one of the few celebrity poker players to have considerable success with the game.
Greco has notched several notable cashes, including third place in the 2009 WSOP $1,500 NLHE event ($248,555), first in the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour Cardiff tourney ($189,773), and 170th in the 2009 WSOP Main Event ($36,626). He has $1,114,297 in overall tournament winnings at the time of this post.
9 – Matt Damon
Matt Damon has been a huge star ever since appearing in Good Will Hunting. He and Affleck earned the Golden Globe award for Best Screenplay in 1997. Since then, he’s gone on to star in a number of other films. Some of these include Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Syriana (2005), and The Departed (2006). Damon’s biggest blockbuster roles include playing Jason Bourne in the Bourne franchise from 2002-2016, as well as Linus Caldwell in the Ocean’s trilogy from 2001-2007.Despite his lengthy acting career, Damon hasn’t worn on movie fans yet. He continues being one of the biggest draws in Hollywood. Damon’s incredible acting skills actually had a part in the poker boom from 2003-2006. He played Mike McDermott in the 1998 cult classic Rounders.
Many poker pros who helped fuel the boom – including 2003 WSOP Main Event champ Chris Moneymaker – attribute their early interest in the game to watching Rounders. Aside from simply starring in a poker movie, Damon also plays the game. He was involved in the aforementioned Hollywood poker ring and has entered a number of live tournaments.
10 – Teddy Sheringham
Teddy Sheringham is an English football manager and former star striker. He played 24 years and scored 288 goals during his career.Sheringham’s prime years came as a member of Manchester United, where he won three Premiership titles, one FA Cup, one UEFA Championship League, and an Intercontinental Cup. In 2001, he earned honors for the FWA Football of the Year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year. The defining moment of Sheringham’s career is when he scored the equalizing goal and provided the winning assist during Manchester United’s victory over Bayern Munich in the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final.
He started playing poker towards the end of his football career, making his first live tournament appearance in 2005. Sheringham accumulated a number of cashes from then up until 2012. His biggest poker highlight includes taking fifth place in the 2010 EPT Vilamoura event, earning $118,346 for this finish. Overall, Sheringham has $329,475 in live tournament winnings.
11 – Victoria Coren Mitchell
Victoria Coren Mitchell is an English writer and TV presenter. She regularly writes columns for the Observer and has hosted the BBC television quiz show Only Connect, among other game shows. Mitchell started writing at age 14, when her first story was published in Just 17 magazine. She also won a competition in the Daily Telegraph for her column about teenage life.She’s since gone on to a long writing career that includes books like Love and Once More, with Feeling. The latter is an interesting take on how she used to review porn videos and felt they were so terrible that she could direct much better versions herself. Mitchell experienced early poker success when she won the European Poker Tour London Main Event in 2006. She became the first player to capture two EPT titles when she also claimed victory at Sanremo in 2014.
Given the fact that Mitchell is well known throughout England, she’s appeared on several poker TV shows. These include Celebrity Poker Club, Late Night Poker, and William Hill Poker Gran Prix 2. She’s had an outstanding poker career that has seen her win $2,470,424. But what’s interesting about Coren Mitchell is that she plays the game far more outside of the spotlight. She’s a close friend of the Hendon Mob and frequently plays home games with them and other famous players.
Mitchell’s writing, TV presenting, and overall playing abilities earned her a longtime sponsorship deal with PokerStars. However, she quit their team in November 2014, citing that she didn’t like the direction they were going with casino gaming. Despite not being sponsored, she still plays a great deal of poker today. She also continues to host Only Connect and Heresy.
Of course, some of the stars I’ve covered still have sponsorship deals. But they’ve also played the game even when they didn’t have a deal.Jason Alexander and Neymar are great examples of this, because they were playing poker well before a sponsorship came along.
Some celebrities simply enjoy the game without any interest in being sponsored. Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire, and Michael Phelps all play poker because they love it and have no need for a deal. Certain stars have truly embraced poker to the point where they are/were nearly professionals. Jennifer Tilly, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Michael Greco, and Maguire each have outstanding results on the table.
Mitchell is particularly impressive when considering that she became the first player to win two EPT titles. Maguire is very possibly the biggest cash game winner ever with up to $40 million in profits. Poker doesn’t look to die off anywhere in the foreseeable future. That said, you can look forward to seeing plenty of other famous people joining the tables as time goes on.