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Gambling Celebs Part 1 – The Golden Oldies

Gambling Celebs Part 1 – The Golden Oldies

Over the years audiences have been captivated by numerous films and television shows about gambling with many well-known stars taking on roles ranging from gambling addicts to casino owners. It is interesting to note though how many of these stars enjoyed gambling in real life and how much it permeated their lives outside of the silver screen. In part one of this feature we look at some classic actors who have made a name for themselves with both on-and-off-screen gambling antics.

Frank Sinatra

Sinatra had starred in a number of films about gambling

It is impossible to discuss gambling and celebrities without Frank Sinatra immediately springing to mind. When Sinatra and his Rat Pack became an almost permanent fixture performing at Las Vegas casinos, they very quickly discovered a true love for the gambling lifestyle.

Before this, Sinatra had starred in a number of films about gambling. In the 1957 hit The Joker Is Wild Sinatra played Joe E. Lewis, a famous comedian of the 1930s-1950s, Lewis is a gambling addict, a fact which both adds to his routine but severely detracts from his personal life. Shortly after this (in 1960) Sinatra stared as Danny Ocean in the original Ocean’s Eleven. The film sees Sinatra pull together a group of friends and rob five of Las Vegas’ casinos in just one night.

During this period Sinatra was a regular visitor to the Cal Neva casino on Lake Tahoe. The casino was a regular hangout for 1960s celebrities and Sinatra actually owned it from 1960-63 during which time he built the Celebrity Room theater and installed a helicopter pad on the roof. At the same time he was campaigning against the segregation of blacks and whites in Vegas casinos which eventually led to Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. being able to join in the fun without any hassle. It’s highly likely that Sinatra took inspiration from these experiences in the 1963 film 4 for Texas when he played Zack Thomas, a crook who gambles away his stolen cash on a casino river boat.

In more recent times the actor Charlie Sheen has become known as a celebrity who loves to gamble. Sheen was the star of the hit show Two and a Half Men where he played a jingle writer who loved to drink and gamble away his fortune. He portrays an almost amoral character who even takes pleasure in winning bets off of his young nephew.

Many would argue that Sheen’s character in the show was a fairly accurate portrayal of the real man. When Sheen divorced his second wife Denise Richards in 2006, she said in divorce papers that he was losing about $200,000 a week on gambling, mainly on sports betting. Sheen’s addiction was so bad that when Richards was on the way to hospital to give birth Sheen called his bookie from the car to place a bet. Furthermore, he was seen checking his pager for the result of the bet as his wife was being taken in for a C-section.

However, Sheen has reportedly now given up gambling. Interestingly enough the reports of him overcoming his addiction surfaced around the same time Sheen took on the role of Charlie Goodson in the TV comedy Anger Management. Goodson is a reformed character who has begun giving others therapy having overcome his own problems. The only unknown is if Sheen’s off-screen lifestyle truly reflects his current on-screen behavior.

Less dramatic are the poker games enjoyed by the two 1990s sitcom stars Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) and Ray Romano (of Everybody Loves Raymond). Aside from playing poker in their respective sitcoms, both are avid real-life poker players who regularly compete in live tournaments including the WSOP.

Ray Romano at the 2010 WSOP

Experience comes with age

Romano has taken part in the World Series of Poker every year since 2007. While he hasn’t been the most successful player, he is always extremely entertaining and happy to have his picture taken and sign an autograph. He has actually won $22,313 from live tournaments, but has never cashed at the WSOP. Nonetheless he always remains optimistic, speaking after crashing out of the 2013 WSOP he said, “Back at home I play in a once-a-month game and the term apples and oranges isn’t even big enough to compare it to this. I wish the Main Event was turbo because then I’d have a chance. In the long run these guys are just going to grind you down and that’s what’s happening.”

Jason Alexander and Matt Damon

Jason Alexander and Matt Damon during the Ante Up for Africa Charity Event at the 2007 WSOP.

Jason Alexander on the other hand has had far more success. He is easily one of the most passionate celebrity poker players around. Not only does he regularly compete in live tournaments, but he is also a frequent player online at Hollywood Poker. Alexander won the 8th season of Celebrity Poker Showdown and while he has also never cashed at the WSOP Main Event he has total live tournament winnings of $29,107 including $5,000 from the Ante Up for Africa Charity Event at the 2007 WSOP.
Continue to part two

OCA News Editor