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Top-10 celebrity online poker players

9 September 2013

Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) caused quite a dustup when he was caught playing poker on his iPhone during a hearing on possible military action in Syria.

McCain isn't the first, and surely won't be the last person, to pass some time playing a little Internet poker. And while McCain wasn't playing for real-money (it would have made my day if he'd been logged in at Bovada), there are quite a few well-known people who have been known to log on to real-money online poker sites to try their luck in the game.

Here's a list of the top-10 celebrities that are not only poker players, but have professed their love for the online game.

10. Wil Wheaton
Regular listeners of the Casino City Gang podcast know that I'm a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Need proof? Read this.) So there's no way I'd put together a list of celebrity Internet poker players and leave out the man who played Wesley Crusher.

Wheaton played well enough to earn a spot on Team PokerStars back in the mid 2000s, and he used to write a lot about the game on his blog,, so my guess is he plays the game much better than the teenage ensign on the Enterprise.

9. Gilbert Arenas
While Gilbert Arenas is now handling the ball for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), at one time, the 6-4 point guard was one of the most talked about players in the NBA. Part of it was his play, but another part was how different he was from the rest of the players in the league.

One way Arenas marched to the beat of his own drummer was his halftime routine. When he played for the Washington Wizards, Arenas would spend halftime playing online poker. Arenas eventually earned a ticket out of Washington when he brought a gun into the locker room (if you're looking for a good value in the Washington, D.C. area, he just lowered the price on his old home to $3 million), and his halftime online poker habit was actually one of the least notable stories about his time there (especially when compared with this). Regardless, it's certainly worthy of a spot on this list.

8. Norm MacDonald
Poker fans will remember Norm MacDonald as the host of High Stakes Poker on GSN and may have seen him play on television in a few celebrity shows, but he actually played quite a bit of online poker pre-Black Friday.

In fact, MacDonald is still owed six figures from his Full Tilt Poker account (he talks about it at the 9:00 mark of the interview). That's quite a bit more than the $27.04 I'm owed. Yeah, it's safe to say Norm MacDonald was a real-money online poker player.

7. Mats Sundin
One of the first big-time athletes to endorse an online poker site, Mats Sundin was still playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs when he started pimping for PokerStars. While hockey isn't the biggest sport in the U.S., PokerStars managed to hit a couple major markets with this signing: Canada and the Nordic countries (in particular, Sweden).

Sundin never made any major waves online, but it seems clear from his live tournament play that he was primarily an online player.

6. James Woods
James Woods was one of the first actors to jump on the celebrity poker bandwagon, though to be fair, Woods was hardly a newcomer to the game when the poker boom occurred. Woods has been a regular at Foxwoods Resort Casino for years, and he was quick to adopt the online platform. In fact, he was one of the first celebrity endorsers of Hollywood Poker, which at one time was a real-money online poker room that offered people a chance to play with celebrities.

The list of "celebrities" at Hollywood Poker is a little pathetic these days, now that it's a play-money room (Brad Garrett and Dennis Quad notwithstanding), but back when Woods was endorsing the room, it actually got quite a bit of buzz.

5. Lisa Simpson
Okay, Lisa's not a real person, but her online poker escapades made for quite a story on the iconic Fox animated comedy. She ran a $5,000 deposit (Homer thought an online poker room was the best place to keep her college money safe) up to over $400,000. Of course, there is the inevitable downswing (which occurs, predictably, in one hand), but the episode is still a classic, and with so many stories of today's pros starting when they were under 18, this list wouldn't be complete without at least one underage gambler.

4. David Wells
As far as I can tell, David Wells never had an endorsement deal with PokerStars. But man, did that guy love his Internet poker. He played a fair amount and was often seen wearing a hat in post-game interviews during his last season or two with the New York Yankees. I never liked the Yankees, but I always loved Wells, who never apologized for being overweight, slovenly, or loving Internet poker. God bless that man.

3. Steve Martin
Steve Martin is better known for playing the banjo than he is for his online poker play (not to mention his impressive acting career), but there's little doubt that he enjoyed the game online. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he didn't always remember playing.

Watch this 2009 interview with David Letterman to see why. Based on his characterization of playing "back when it was legal," it seems doubtful that Martin has played since the passage of the UIGEA.

2. Rafael Nadal
One of the biggest names on the international tennis circuit, Nadal earned a sponsorship deal with PokerStars thanks to his athletic prowess and his country of birth, Spain. Looking to expand their business in a regulated Spanish market, got the 12-time grand slam winner to sign an endorsement deal which sees the superstar pitch the poker room not only in advertising, but also online, where he has hosted several events.

While Nadal doesn't play enough hours to be considered a great player yet, he did manage to win the first tournament he played, picking up €152.40 after beating 46 opponents in a €10 freezeout.

1. Michael Phelps
The most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 total medals, including 18 golds, Phelps is also a big fan of the game of poker. The now retired swimmer is well known among poker fans for spending time with Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak and has had a few live tournament cashes. He has also put in his fair share of time playing online.

There's something about poker that seems to draw in super-competitive athletes just entering retirement, and I can only imagine what kind of sponsorship deal Phelps would have picked up from an online poker room in a federally regulated U.S. market.
Top-10 celebrity online poker players is republished from
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.