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Does Tobey Maguire Have a Gambling Problem?

A gambling-related lawsuit snagged the Spiderman star this week, and now stories are emerging of his supposed gambling addiction. Just how serious is the accusation—and the disease?

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Here's hoping Maguire knows when to fold 'em.
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By Anna David

11/30/11

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According to those close to Tobey Maguire, friends of the Spiderman star are worried that he's a gambling addict.

These rumors come in the wake of the $80,000 settlement that Maguire paid toward the victims of Ponzi-schemer Bradley Ruderman, an ex-hedge funder who’s now serving a decade-long term for defrauding his clients. The back story is this: Maguire, who is evidently very skilled at Texas Hold'Em, supposedly won around $300,000 at secret poker games in New York and Los Angeles, while Ruderman lost five million in all. Maguire hasn’t broken any laws; the payment is his way out of a lawsuit that also targeted Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back Kotter, The Notebook director Nick Cassavetes and 19 others. The actor was apparently unaware that Ruderman didn’t have the funds to cover his debts.

Maguire certainly isn’t the only bold-faced name to be accused of gambling too much. Ben Affleck, Michael Jordan, Bill Bennett, Charles Barkley, A-Rod, Gladys Knight, Artie Lange, Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, and Brandon Davis, among many others, have also gathered ink for the same affliction.

Yet 36-year-old Maguire is the rare star who has done much of his gambling in public. After learning poker from professional player Daniel Negreanu, Maguire competed in and won the World Series of Poker. And professional poker player Phil Hellmuth once said on Poker After Dark that Maguire has won as much $10 million through poker alone.

“I’ve never treated anyone who didn’t have a dual addiction,” reveals Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage and family therapist who specializes in relationships and addiction.

But Dr. Timothy Fong, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and Co-Director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, cautions that the way the media treats celebrity gamblers confuses an extremely serious issue. “Just because someone loses $100,000 doesn’t mean that person is a gambling addict,” says Fong (who has never treated Maguire). “If you can afford to lose the money and it doesn’t damage your life, it is considered a hobby—or, at worst, a bad habit. The problem is when people continue to gamble despite horrible consequences.”

Still, Maguire has been public about the fact that he's been sober since the age of 19 and cross-addiction—which often means getting sober and then acting out addictively in other ways—is extremely common. “I’ve never treated anyone who didn’t have a dual addiction,” reveals Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage and family therapist who specializes in relationships and addiction. “And the primary disease has to be treated before the secondary disease can even be revealed.” Adds Fong, “A solid treatment program will address all addictions but oftentimes therapists will say things like, ‘Glad you stopped smoking crack’ and recommend that a patient take up something like poker, believing it’s benign.”

Yet gambling addiction is the furthest thing from benign. “It’s a disease that kills,” says Fong. “’Died of gambling addiction’ isn’t listed a death certificate when someone commits suicide and 25% of gamblers who have entered treatment have tried to kill themselves.” (The percentage of drug addicts and alcoholics who have attempted suicide, Fong says, is much lower: roughly 10-15%). Also, Fong adds, “Gambling addicts don’t just die from suicide: they also have heart attacks and strokes as a result of not taking care of themselves because of their obsession.”

While California—where Maguire lives—has a higher population of problem gamblers than the rest of the country (roughly four percent compared to a national average of one to two percent, according to Fong), Fong attributes that primarily to the fact that the state offers so many gambling opportunities (horse tracks, Indian casinos, et. Al) and not to any sort of wacky ideas about how if you put the country on its side and shook it, all the loose pieces would fall to California (full disclosure: that's my own theory). But where there's a problem, there's oftentimes a solution and since July, 2009, California has offered free state-funded treatment for gambling addiction. “We have five million dollars a year dedicated to it,” Fong explains. “That includes over 200 licensed therapists and eight free sessions for anyone suffering.” While roughly 32 states have state-funded treatment for gambling addiction—see this map for specific information—California's budget is the largest in total (though not the largest per capita).

The 12-step program Gamblers Anonymous—which is in every major city in the United States—has also come to the aid of many sufferers. “I hear it’s actually an even more supportive program than AA,” Hokemeyer offers. “It’s supposed to be a very tightly knit community.” People who are concerned about their relationship with gambling should consider taking the GA test. As for Maguire, more—as they say—will be revealed.

Anna David is the Executive Editor of The Fix and the author of the books Party Girl, BoughtReality Matters and Falling For MeShe's written about Tom Sizemore and Steve-O, among others, for The Fix.

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