High Stakes

Did Poker Help Kill Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s Marriage?

Bennifer II is no more, and some gossip outlets are claiming Affleck’s consuming passion for Hollywood’s favorite game is partly to blame. So was Garner really fed up with the tables?

Ben Affleck was neatly arranging his $50,000 stack of poker chips during a big game at the Beverly Hills Hotel when a fellow player cleared his throat across the table.

“Hey, yo, did that Jennifer Lopez’s ass have cellulite on it, or was it nice?”

Affleck, ever the gentleman, clarified that it was “nice,” then pushed some chips into an ample pot.

This was 10 years ago, around the time the actor tied the knot with his Daredevil co-star Jennifer Garner, having split with J. Lo a year earlier. Ten years later, he and Bennifer II have called it quits, with TMZ’s sterling sources saying Garner was worn down by Affleck’s gambling habits and “couldn’t take it anymore.”

It’s no secret that the Batman star has an affinity for gambling. He’s said as much himself, though he denied rumors of an addiction in a 2014 interview with Details. (“When will the indignities end?”) The indignities raged in the tabloids after Affleck was banned from the blackjack table at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, apparently because he kept beating the house.

And in the doomsday tabloid coverage leading up to Tuesday’s divorce announcement, Affleck was spotted solo playing “high-stakes poker” in Vegas on two separate occasions during May.

But no one knew of Affleck’s $50,000 buy-in for that big game 10 years ago at the Beverly Hills Hotel until last year, when former “poker princess” Molly Bloom detailed it in her tell-all, Mollys Game.

Bloom went from being a 26-year-old cocktail waitress in Los Angeles to masterminding Hollywood’s high-stakes, hush-hush poker games, to being hunted by the feds. Her book documents the apex of Hollywood’s long love affair with poker and gambling, when “every cardplayer in Hollywood wanted to come to the game, and everyone’s friends wanted to come and watch.” The Olsen twins showed up to the spectacle one night.

It makes perfect sense that showbiz stars would be mad about poker. They’re all wildly competitive and possess substantial egos, and poker provokes them to prove they’re the best at table. They’re generally accustomed to throwing around money and they like the drama of poker. The game also plays to actors’ strengths: pretense and deception. They get into character and gamble on their talents.

Affleck is one of a handful of stars who played in Bloom’s games, though he only makes one major appearance in her book. The actor was “tall and handsome, with a relaxed persona that not all icons have in person,” Bloom writes, and his “buy-in choice told me he was a smart player who liked to limit his downside.” Bloom’s boss at her waitressing gig recruited her to oversee several big games he was planning, with actors like Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Affleck invited to the table. (Bloom declined to comment for this article.)

DiCaprio “had a strange style at the table...almost as if he wasn’t trying to win or lose,” she writes. “He folded most hands and listened to music on huge headphones.”

Maguire was supposedly the “second-best player in the game,” but he was greedy, moody, and frequently nasty to Bloom, she writes. He was “the biggest winner” in the first game she oversaw but gave her “the smallest tip.” During another game, she writes, he demanded that she “bark like a seal” for his amusement and flew into a rage when she refused. But none of this mattered: Her job was to stroke actors’ egos and cool flaring tempers at the table.

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Among the other players were industry A-listers like Todd Phillips, who directed The Hangover franchise, Wall Street giants, real estate tycoons, and aristocrats.

The women in their lives—wives and serious girlfriends—are largely absent from Bloom’s book, just as they are from the game. She writes about one regular player who misses his wife’s birthday because he can’t step away from the table, only to end up losing $500,000 in one night. Bloom keeps “their high turnover of girlfriends happy” and tends to their boys’ club atmosphere, which she describes like a scene in The Wolf of Wall Street. On a trip to Miami with her boss and his friends, they spend the day on “a fully functional floating mansion equipped with a formal living and dining room, a gym, even a helicopter...The women were waifish, impossibly glamorous models and socialites.” Bloom also hires attractive women “as decoration” to help her serve drinks during games.

Women didn’t play in Bloom’s games. But in a 2005 Vanity Fair exposé on the industry’s poker obsession, writer Duff McDonald lists Affleck, Maguire, Mimi Rogers, James Woods, and former comedian Gabe Kaplan as “the five most avid poker players in Hollywood.” Sharon Stone also played, as did Laura Prepon, who with her boyfriend Chris Masterson hosted a game at her home five nights a week.

In 2004, McDonald writes, Affleck pocketed $356,400 when he won the California State Poker Championship at Los Angeles’s Commerce Casino, beating 89 other players, including Maguire. Maguire took home $95,480 that same year when he won a $2,000-buy-in tournament at the Hollywood Park Casino—small change compared to the big buy-ins and high stakes in Bloom’s games.

But Maguire was said to be the better player by a long shot, “variously described as intuitive, sponge-like, and passionate,” while Affleck was “aggressive and fearless, traits that can backfire at the table.”

In last year’s Details interview, Affleck said rumors about Garner being fed up with his gambling habits were “bullshit.” He also said he’s “sort of obsessive. I tend to get myopic and get into one thing. And really get into it. And then get bored and switch to something else.”

If gambling wasn’t the nail in the coffin for Affleck’s marriage, perhaps it was just time to switch to someone else.