Poker is a game associated with celebrities, huge wads of money and exclusivity (at least, when the tables have the highest stakes imaginable.) Those of us who just play a few hands of online poker with friends may be highly unlikely ever to land a seat at these exclusive tables. It’s undeniable that high-stakes cash games with celebrities in the seats sound like the most entertaining poker conceivable; but who runs these games and where do they take place?
Let’s find out where some of the biggest celebrity home poker games take place, who gets to turn up and with what kind of stakes these millionaires play.
Dan Bilzerian’s billionaire game
Where better to start than with Dan Bilzerian – the king of Instagram and one of poker’s most controversial players? While Bilzerian is undoubtedly mega-rich and leads a lifestyle that’s all about women, guns and private jets, could he really have won $50 million in private cash games in just one year?
If you look at the star-studded cast of his home game in LA and the fact that Bilzerian himself is likely better-versed in poker than his Hollywood guests, his claims hold up a bit better. His VIP guest list has included celebrities like Tobey Maguire, Nick Cassavetes and Mark Wahlberg, to mention only a few. What’s more, he occasionally mixes things up with Bill Perkins (more on his home game later), who is one of the wealthiest men in America.
Putting all this together makes Bilzerian’s tales of $10 million buy-ins and “betting Bugattis” instead of money start (perhaps) to ring more true. He may even earn some of his big winnings playing online poker, though he hardly seems the type to do anything in the privacy of his home when he would rather be in the public eye.
It’s no secret that Bilzerian is ultra-rich. And regardless of the source of that wealth – whether he had to play poker online to earn that money or whether it came from the trust fund left to him by his infamous father – it’s clear that the very exclusive home games aren’t going to stop happening any time soon.
Johnny Carson’s Boys
Although it has been discontinued, The Tonight Show host and actor Johnny Carson used to host one hell of a home game. Among the exclusive list of invitees were some of Hollywood’s biggest hitters, including Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Neil Simon and Carl Reiner. The game was hosted at Dan Melnick’s house in LA, but was still Carson’s game while it lasted (Carson died in 2005.)
The game used to be known as the “Gourmet Poker Group” on account of the world-class dinners players were served when they took a break. It was said that anybody who wanted a seat at the table had to “go through Carson,” who had the final say on whether you could play. At least these days – with no hope of getting Carson’s nod “from beyond” – you can just relax at home and play some poker online! (Indeed, if you’re already well versed in poker tournament rules, you could even consider entering an online poker tournament.)
Can you imagine a private home game so big, with such a star-studded guest list, that it’s turned into both a book and a movie? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Molly’s Game. Hosted in the VIP section of the Viper Room in Hollywood, the private game was Tobey Maguire’s until up-and-coming actress Molly Bloom took it over. She later became one of the biggest “facilitators” of high-stakes poker action.
Molly’s game featured some of the biggest stars imaginable from Hollywood, including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Maguire (obviously) and Leonardo DiCaprio. Celebrities weren’t the only millionaires invited to the game, though. Sky-high-rolling gangsters and business people filled the rest of the seats – which may have been part of why this extremely private and exclusive home game caught the attention of the FBI.
Sure, these names are huge, so we can assume their bankrolls were, too, but what kind of money was staked at the felt here? To give you an example of the level of play and the stakes involved, 2006 WSOP Main Event winner Jamie Gold supposedly lost almost all of his $12 million bankroll in a single evening.
Bill Perkins’ private game
We said we’d get to him, didn’t we? Bill Perkins is one of poker’s most enthusiastic players. If you’ve ever seen a televised poker event with high enough stakes to summon this jolly high-roller to the table, you’ll know Perkins when you see (or hear) him. It only makes sense that this ultra-rich multimillionaire would host a massive home game for the other pumped-up whales he meets on business trips and at poker tournaments.
We don’t have enough information to know who gets which seat or the criteria for securing a place at this exclusive table. Still, we do know that Dan Bilzerian (the millionaire playboy and king of Instagram we mentioned up top) gets one. And it’s a lucrative game: he has told stories of winning $10.8 million in a single night! Even if he’s exaggerating, trimming a single zero off the end still doesn’t make that a cheap game.
You know the stakes are high when Perkins admits that even someone as wealthy as him couldn’t ignore the sting of the losses incurred at his own home game. And you know the stakes are truly off the charts when a man like Bilzerian, who exudes an aura of laissez-faire, devil-may-care immunity to massive poker losses, can’t laugh off a bad run at this exclusive table.
The Macau Millionaires may not be a home game, but it’s impossible to talk about private poker games (particularly ones with high stakes and celebrity attendances) without mentioning it. This game takes place in the gambling mecca of Macau: a special administrative region in China that plays by its own rules.
Macau Millionaires is the game where the poker elite (and by that, we mean hugely skilled and ultra-rich) come to do some high-stakes betting among their peers. Poker pros and legends such as Phil Ivey, Tom “Durrrr” Dwan and Johnny Chan have all had regular seats at this game, along with the Chinese, Hong Kong and Malaysian business moguls who frequent the table. We’re not kidding when we say this game is for the big-hitters in poker: blinds start at around $10k/$20k (ouch!) Tales of losses close to $10 million in a single session are the sum total of what we know about what happens at poker’s biggest private table.
If you thought it was hard to get a seat at any of the other private games we covered, then prepare to have your mind blown. To give you an idea of how exclusive and rare a seat at this particular table is, consider that when the game’s running, there are WSOP champions and legends posted up in every hotel and casino around, waiting (praying, even) for the call that invites them to an empty seat. It’s all about “who you know” – even then, that’s not always good enough. But that’s the very nature of exclusivity in big-game elite poker!
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While you may never sit down at any of these exclusive home games, it’s fun to imagine what it would be like to riffle your million-dollar chip stacks as you rub elbows with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Until then, why not indulge your fantasies by playing poker games online at your favorite online casino? At BetMGM, you can play real poker online and many other casino table games, including online slots and many others!
From our immersive live dealer casino games to classic Texas Hold’em games and even online poker tournaments, you’ll find there’s a table perfect for your budget and play style. Immerse yourself in poker news with our blog, where you can explore topics such as surprising knockouts in the history of professional poker and a beginner’s guide to GTO poker strategy. To start your journey to poker fame, register with BetMGM. Who knows – maybe one day you’ll be hosting the next big home game for the stars!