The prototypical American movie star, actor Ben Affleck was recently tabbed to take up Batman’s mantle on the silver screen, giving the newest Caped Crusader a different superpower altogether: counting cards.
Affleck made international headlines in May of 2014, after the star was reportedly banned from the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas on suspicion of being an advantage player at the blackjack tables.
According to an anonymous source who spoke with notorious gossip peddler the New York Post, Affleck was winning so consistently at private high-roller table that managers at the Hard Rock asked him to leave and never return.
While the rumor might have been attributed to a slow news day in Sin City, Affleck readily confirmed the account while speaking with Details magazine the following September:
That is a true story. I mean, that took place. I took some time to learn the game and became a decent blackjack player. And once I became decent, the casinos asked me not to play blackjack. I mean, the fact that being good at the game is against the rules at the casinos should tell you something about casinos.
They don’t even want you to have a sporting chance, really. There’s a lot of hospitality, backslapping, when they think you’re gonna come in and dump money, and if they think you might leave with some money, it’s like, ‘You know what? Why don’t you try craps or roulette?
Affleck is no stranger to the public eye, beginning his career as a child actor at the age of 12. Born on August 15th, 1972 in Berkeley, California, the first film role for Affleck came in 1993’s high-school nostalgia story Dazed and Confused. His star began to shine on the world stage in 1997, when he and boyhood friend Matt Damon collaborated on Good Will Hunting. The film was a critical and box office success, earning both Affleck and Damon the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay at the 1998 Academy Awards.
From that point Affleck assumed the status of bona fide Hollywood superstar, and he appeared in hit films like Armageddon (1998), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001), Changing Lanes (2002), and The Sum of All Fears (2002) over the next few years. Although he went on to release notable box office bombs like Daredevil and Gigli in 2003, Affleck launched a career renaissance in upcoming years as a respected director. A second Oscar came for Affleck in 2012, after he directed and starred in the political thriller Argo.
In 2013 Affleck appeared in the online poker crime flick Runner Runner – which was loosely based on the story of Nat Arem, a poker player who used statistical analysis and hand histories provided by pros to help uncover Absolute Poker’s insider cheating scandal in 2007.
Affleck had previously shown off his poker chops on numerous occasions. In 2004 he entered the $10,000 buy-in California State Poker Championship tournament, held at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. Competing against 90 of the region’s top pros and home game heroes, Affleck proceeded to make the final table, where he squared off against recognized pros like Amir Vahedi (9th), Raymond Davis (7th), John Esposito (5th), Jimmy Tran (4th), and Stan Goldstein (2nd).
Each of the players listed has earned more than $1 million playing poker tournaments over the years, but on that day Affleck bested them all, taking down the title and $356,400 in prize money. The result remains Affleck’s only reported live tournament cash.
In a press release issued by Commerce Casino Marketing Manager to announce the championship event’s results, Affleck’s dedication to the game was noted:
This is not likely the last time you’ll see Ben Affleck at one of our final tables. He has become a respected member of the poker elite and continues to work to improve his game. We expect he’ll be a big factor in the World Poker Tour Invitational and the LA Poker Classic early next year as well. At this rate, Ben might even being toying with turning acting into his avocation and poker into his vocation.
Continuing to show an interest in tournament poker, Affleck was featured alongside his pal Damon in ESPN’s broadcasts of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. This appearance called back memories of Damon entering the 1998 edition of the WSOP Main Event, during which time he and co-star Edward Norton were promoting the quintessential poker movie Rounders.
Affleck’s connections to poker have long been the stuff of sordid rumors and innuendo. After his 10-year marriage to actress Jennifer Garner fell apart this year, many tabloids speculated on the role of Affleck’s “gambling addiction” when covering the split.
When former cocktail waitress and reputed Hollywood home game madam Molly Bloom published a tell-all titled Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker in 2014, she wrote about Affleck’s presence as a regular buying in for $50,000 at a time in heated high-stakes cash games 10 years prior:
He was tall and handsome with a relaxed charisma that not all icons have in person … a smart player who liked to limit his downside.
An article published by Vanity Fair in February of 2005 named Affleck as one of the “five most avid poker players in Hollywood,” along with Tobey Maguire, Mimi Rogers, Gabe Kotter, and James Woods.
To hear Affleck tell the tale though, his true love when it comes to casino gaming is blackjack. Responding to the rumors regarding his ban from the Hard Rock for counting cards, Affleck explained:
I had always liked blackjack. I don’t play any other games of chance. I don’t bet on football games, and I don’t gamble at all, really, outside of that. But I knew with blackjack that there’s a way you can improve your odds. And so I started trying to learn. And then I just got to a point in my life where I’m like, ‘If I’m going to do something, I’m going to try and do it really well.’ It was sort of presented like I did something illegal.
While Affleck broke no laws by using his ability to count cards to reduce the house’s edge in blackjack, so-called advantage players are frowned upon by casinos, who typically reserve their right to refuse service and enforce bans like the one imposed on Affleck.
According to a report published by the New York Post in May of 2014, Affleck’s ban may have come as a result of repeated winning sessions at the high-stakes blackjack games offered to “whales” at the Hard Rock. The report cites a 2000 game in which Affleck won $140,000 alongside Damon, in addition to another session in 2001, where Affleck bet three hands at a time for $20,000 each en route to an $800,000 haul.
The article went on to state that Affleck’s motivation at the table is purely competitive rather than financial:
With $75 million in net worth, the 41-year-old actor is in it more for adrenaline than for money. He gave away every one of his $140,000 in chips to casino staffers on the 2000 trip – tipping his dealers, waitress and door boys as much as $5,000.