The Secret World of Hollywood Poker

 

According to the insider, the big games were simply gatherings of friends looking to bond and relax. But by the summer of 2006, these games were hardly spontaneous get-togethers but more structured affairs, managed by an attractive, then-28-year-old brunette named Molly Bloom.  

Bloom, whose brother Jeremy is a former Olympic skier and now an ESPN college football analyst, allegedly had myriad responsibilities. According to court filings, she was paid to set up hotel suites for games, relay information to the players and hire dealers as well as arrange for food, drinks, massages and bodyguards. Bloom also kept track of winnings and losses and arranged for payment to be made among players.

Ruderman came into this very exclusive game in an unlikely fashion: He had been renting an oceanfront Carbon Beach residence next door to the house of a player. One day, he walked over while a game was under way and introduced himself. "He was a quirky, quiet guy and easy to play with, and that's how he got involved with it," the insider says. Perhaps Ruderman's charm also lay in the fact that he lost, a lot.

"I don't think any serious poker player has a problem taking money from somebody who is bad at it," Malina says. "I wouldn't want to take money from someone who can't afford it. But a rich guy -- which he appeared to be -- yeah. You have to have that killer instinct as a poker player. A poker player wants to take whoever's money is easiest to take. The metric I apply is how much money I won. More is better. Most honest poker players will tell you that."

And it did appear that Ruderman could pay. The eldest child of a financial adviser, Ruderman had grown up in Los Angeles. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in political science in 1986, he had moved to New York, where he worked as an investment banker at several Wall Street firms including Lehman Bros. Eventually he returned to Los Angeles and, starting in 2002, convinced a group of investors, including family members, to entrust him with their money.

He boasted that his Ruderman Capital Partners hedge funds generated returns as high as 60 percent with stakes in such companies as Apple and Walmart. And he played the role of the successful investor. In a period of a few years, according to court papers, he laid out at least $8.7 million on such personal expenses as two Porsches and that pricey summer rental in Malibu.

The fact that Ruderman apparently slipped into the game without an introduction might have eliminated a layer of protection. Usually, says the film producer who plays regularly in smaller games, the person who introduces a new player is vouching implicitly that the newcomer can handle the stakes. But ultimately, this producer says, anyone who enters a game is vouching for himself. "If a guy comes into your game, he is saying, 'I can pay.' It's nobody's responsibility to make sure a guy can pay -- unless you bring them to the game," he says.

When the economy dipped in 2008, things began to fall apart for Ruderman. Not only was the Ponzi scheme proving unsustainable, but he had blown a fortune at the poker table. According to court filings, he had racked up a staggering $5.2 million in poker losses -- as little as roughly $20,000 to one player and nearly $1 million to another.

Ruderman kept playing until March 2009, a month before Ruderman Capital was forced into involuntary bankruptcy. On May 15 of that year, Ruderman, then 46, surrendered to FBI agents. He was charged with running the Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of more than $25 million. Among those left holding the bag in the bankruptcy is Gores, who is owed $4 million because he had invested his own money with Ruderman. (With a net worth of $1.9 billion, Gores is No. 227 on Forbes' list of the richest Americans. His brother, Sam Gores, heads the Paradigm talent agency, and another, Tom Gores, owns the NBA's Detroit Pistons.)

According to Ruderman's own account as told in court papers, he had continued to play poker as his losses mounted, convincing himself that he could win back the money even while recognizing that was virtually impossible. That kind of thinking is typical for an addict, according to a former actor who developed a gambling habit after becoming a regular at Texas hold 'em games. "It grabs you from every angle," he says. "If you're winning, you feel like the king of the world. If you're losing, you think, 'How am I going to get out of this?' You gamble more."

Following his arrest, Ruderman declared that he was, in fact, an addict. While his legal fate was being decided, he moved into the Beit T'Shuvah Residential Treatment Program in Los Angeles. (The program, which involves faith-based treatment, was co-founded by Ruderman's father for philanthropic reasons years before he imagined that his son would end up living there.) In a medical evaluation submitted to the court, Dr. Timothy Fong of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program wrote that prolonged incarceration would prevent Ruderman from getting the care he needed and increase the likelihood of relapse. The judge was not convinced. In January 2010, Ruderman was sentenced to 121 months in a minimum-security federal prison in Big Spring, Texas.

Contacted there, Ruderman was initially eager to tell his story, to discuss the nature of gambling addiction and the culture of poker in Hollywood. He agreed to a meeting at prison as long as family did not object. But Ruderman's family did object, and the offer was withdrawn.

 

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