The Most Exclusive, Invite-Only Private Poker Games

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Header image, five well dressed men around an intimate setting poker game, shelves of bottles in the background
BetMGM Jan 01, 2024, 5:43 PM

Poker is one of the most widely known forms of gambling. Enjoyed by recreational players and professionals alike, the allure of this game of strategy, skill, and luck has made poker a universal symbol of gambling. But beyond the familiar territories of tournaments, the casino floor, and online poker websites lies a more secretive, high-stakes poker world reserved for the elite few. 

Private poker games have an air of secrecy and danger, offering a unique and exclusive environment for celebrities and high-rollers to get together for a bit of friendly competition with some impressive pots on the table. The privacy surrounding these celebrity poker games has made them a subject of tremendous intrigue. Yet, for the most part, a significant part of the world of exclusive poker games remains unknown to everyday players. The only information available about these games is what’s shared on social media or spoken about in whispers after the fact. Where online casino games are democratic by nature (anyone can play), these clandestine events are by invitation only and are usually only attended by celebrities and some of the world’s wealthiest poker players. 

Explore the world of underground poker games and find out who hosts them, the stakes involved, popular locations, and other aspects that make them enticing to players.

Why People Love a Private Poker Game

Poker pros and casual players host private poker games to practice their skills, enjoy the company of their friends in a relaxed social setting, or attract other professionals for high-stakes competitions. To add to the exclusivity, it’s by invitation only, and the venue, whether it’s a luxurious setting like a private poker room or club or someone’s Beverley Hills home, is usually kept a secret.

To get an invite, you need to know the host, have some poker experience, and, in most cases, have access to money — lots of money. The high stakes demand a bankroll to match, so the attendees of the biggest home poker games are usually career gamblers who have made a name for themselves, powerful executives, and celebrities who love the game. 

High Rollers and Hosts of Celebrity Poker Games

Here are some of the low-key home poker games and flashy high-roller tables (past and present) you should know about. If you’re wondering how to find underground poker games, you need to start rubbing shoulders with players like these.

The Silicon Valley Poker Home Game

Phil Hellmuth, the host, is one of the biggest names in poker and has 13 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets to prove it. The players he has invited to his Bay Area games include tech moguls Chamath Palihapitiya, Mark Pincus, David Sacks, Jason Calacanis, and David Lee. The stakes have been said to be around $100/$200 for no-limit hold’em.

Tobey Maguire’s (Molly’s) Game

Tobey Maguire’s private poker game is probably one of the most well-known celebrity poker games to have taken place, having been featured in the tell-all book, “Molly’s Game” which was also adapted into a movie in 2017. The biographical dramas are based on the true story of Molly Bloom, a former Olympic-class skier who turned underground poker game host for high-profile clients. The poker game was originally hosted by Tobey Maguire, but Bloom eventually took over hosting. In the film, the players include celebrities and poker pros such as Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Phil Ivey, and Jamie Gold. The stakes were initially $100/$200 but increased to $500/$1,000. Rumor has it that Gold, the 2006 WSOP champion, lost his entire bankroll in one of these VIP Viper Room venues on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.

Johnny Carson’s Home Poker Game

Hosted at a secret location in the Hollywood Hills, the former television host only invited high-profile guests he approved of, like stars Steve Martin and Chevy Chase, among other celebrities who enjoy gambling. Although the stakes were said to be low, it wasn’t only about dealing cards. In the breaks, players were treated to a world-class dinner.

Starworld’s Poker King Club

This high-stakes event at the Star World Casino in Macau is so exclusive that American poker pros have been turned away. Mainly organized by Malaysian billionaires Richard Yong and Paul Phua, the game has stakes that often reach an eye-popping $1,250/$2,500. Poker pro, Tom Dwan reportedly lost over $4 million in one of these trips to Macau.

Larry Flynt’s Poker Game

The founder of “Hustler” magazine hosted many private poker games with players such as Jerry Buss and Phil Ivey — the stakes for a seven-card stud would reach as much as $4,000/$8,000. In the 1990s, Flynt presented the largest game of seven-card stud in the world. Eric Drache, a Poker Hall of Famer, managed the game and determined who would get a seat.

An interesting fact about Flynt’s games is that, because he had been paralyzed in an accident, he kept the thermostats low for his comfort. This led players to wear thermal underwear and scarves to the games in his Hollywood Hills home or at the Hustler Casino in LA. 

Willie Nelson’s Home Poker Game

Despite the fact that exclusive poker games are usually kept a secret, one player has always been relatively open about hosting private poker games — Willie Nelson. This regular game sees celebrities such as Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, and Woody Harrelson playing casual games at Nelson’s ocean-view home in Pā’ia, Maui. However, despite the elite status and notable net worths of the players at Nelson’s private poker games, they are all reportedly low-stakes events. It’s clear that it isn’t about the money but more about the love of the game and getting together to socialize in a laid-back environment with good friends. Nelson himself said they just “play poker and smoke weed.”

The World Series of Art Poker Game

In the heart of Hollywood, a unique poker tournament has been quietly captivating the art world’s elite since it was first hosted in 2021 — the World Series of Art Poker. Starting off as a semi-secret event, the fame of this poker tournament has grown year by year. However, with all of the A-listers that have participated, the little secrecy that this tournament did have is now long gone. The 2023 game, which was held in March, was a thrilling convergence of the Hollywood art scene and involved nearly 100 players, each making a $500 buy-in.

Instead of this tournament being made up of poker pros, the player list included notable celebrities, art dealers, artists, and actors. Among the players were actors Tobey Maguire (who finished 17th) and Jack Black (who made it to the final table), as well as art dealer Jeff Poe, established artists Matt Johnson and Grant Levy-Lucero, and the world-famous artist Richard Prince. If that wasn’t impressive enough, this tournament has even been attended by Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres, and Bruno Mars in the past.

The Ultimate Checklist to Hosting an Exclusive Poker Game

While the home poker games on this list are some of the highest-stakes poker games ever played, that doesn’t mean that the experience of private poker is exclusively reserved for the rich and famous. You can get together with your friends to play private poker games online or set up a home poker night to replicate the ambiance of exclusive poker games, but with lower stakes and a much more manageable budget. 

If starting a poker club or hosting an exclusive private game is on your bucket list, here’s a 12-point checklist to help you:

  • Decide on the guest list.
  • Choose a venue that suits your plan and space needs.
  • Get the necessary equipment such as tables, chairs, chips, and blinds.
  • Set the rules and structure, decide on the specific game and buy-in amount, and let the guests know what these are.
  • Order food and drinks, asking guests if they have special dietary needs.
  • Arrange for security during the event.
  • Send invitations with the date, time, venue, and any other instructions.
  • Make sure you have a check-in process and proper bankroll management.
  • Set the mood with lighting and music.
  • Give players clear instructions and guidelines.
  • Be sure to respect each other’s privacy.

Play Poker Online at BetMGM

If you haven’t started your own poker club yet and want to join the table, register with BetMGM. The poker site has real-money cash games and poker tournaments suitable for every level of player. The online casino also has special live dealer versions of three-card poker and ultimate Texas hold’em, in addition to a broad range of online slots and other online casino games. The game is on at BetMGM.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.