A-List Stars to Play in 2009 World Series of Poker

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Matt Damon

By Melissa Arseniuk, Las Vegas Sun

Forget the VIP section at Tao, the cabanas XS and the dining rooms at N9NE Steakhouse, Simon and Nove Italiano: The hottest spot for stargazing Thursday will be the Amazon Ballroom at the Rio.

That is where a range of A-list stars will take to the tables for the third-annual Ante Up for Africa charity poker tournament.

Matt Damon, Ben and Casey Affleck, Mekhi Phifer, Jason Alexander, Charles Barkley, Hank Azaria, Brad Garrett, Reggie Miller and Sarah Silverman are among those confirmed for the event.

Herschel Walker, Marlon Wayans, Kenny Smith and Montel Williams have also promised to attend.

Meanwhile, poker pros Howard Lederer, Andy Bloch, Erik Seidel and Phil Hellmuth will also take part.

World Series of Poker ace Annie Duke and actor Don Cheadle are two of the co-founders behind the tournament, which helps support humanitarian causes in Darfur and Sudan.

The no-limit Texas hold ‘em action gets underway tomorrow at 2 p.m.

"I'm really excited," Duke said Tuesday during a WSOP kick-off event at Lavo. "We've got a huge, wonderful list of celebrities."

Of the VIPs, she said there are two main ones to watch.

"Ben Affleck is a very good player, he made our final table last year," she said.

However, Duke's opinion may be somewhat biased: She is the one credited with teaching the well-known actor how to play poker in the first place.

Still, Duke said Affleck isn't the only one who knows his stuff.

"Jason Alexander also has made our final table before," Duke said, "So he's actually done really well in our event, too."

"I'd say that those, of the people that we have coming, are probably the two most dedicated poker players," she said. "I think that (most of the Hollywood stars) don't take it quite as seriously as the poker pros do, so you expect to see the ones who take the poker much more seriously (at the final table)."

Still, she said, the luck is in the draw.

"You can expect to see anybody at the final table," she said. "That's the beauty of poker."

Garrett is also known for his luck at the tables, as is Barkley - though unlike the former "Everybody Loves Raymond" funnyman, Barkley is not known for having particularly good luck.

The retired NBA star made headlines last year after racking up more than $400,000 in gambling debts at the Wynn.

Instead of poker, however, Barkley said the outstanding debts were the result of bad bets he placed on the 2008 Super Bowl.

Two years before facing his problems with the Wynn, Barkley told ESPN that he had lost approximately $10 million over the years to bad bets.

He also acknowledged having "a gambling problem," but figured it was a problem he could afford.

"Do I have a gambling problem? Yeah, I do have a gambling problem," he told ESPN. "But I don't consider it a problem because I can afford to gamble."

Thursday's tournament has a $5,000 buy-in and unlike most tables on Vegas casino floors, all proceeds will support the non-profit.

Since its beginnings in 2006, Ante Up for Africa has raised nearly $2 million.

The contest is expected to last no more than five hours from start to finish and will be followed by a VIP party at Pure at Caesars Palace.

If you can't make it down to the Rio tomorrow, however, do not despair: The event will be televised on ESPN on Tuesday, Aug. 11.

Of all the A-list talent, Duke said she's looking forward to seeing one of her former "Celebrity Apprentice" contestants the most.

"I'm really happy because Herschel Walker is coming in and I haven't seen him since the ‘(Celebrity) Apprentice,'" she said.

"I haven't seen him in a long time," she explained. "I got to see him really briefly at the (‘Celebrity Apprentice' season) finale but I didn't get to talk to him because it was all kind of crazy so I really haven't been able to talk to him, talk to him, in months."

As far as her former small-screen boss, however, Duke wasn't quite as enthusiastic or hopeful.

She said she hasn't seen Donald Trump since production wrapped on the reality show contest.

"I haven't seen him," she said. "We didn't invite him to the event."

When asked whether or not she hoped to see "the Donald" at the Rio tomorrow, Duke didn't sugarcoat her reply.

In fact, her response was both curt and telling: "I hope not."

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