By Harriet Ryan
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(Court TV) -- When he won $12 million in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas this month, Jamie Gold, a television producer, pumped his first in the air, hoisted stacks of cash over his head, and wrapped his mother in an embrace.
"It feels amazing!" the 36-year-old gushed as he displayed the diamond-and-gold prize bracelet to a throng of ecstatic friends. The amateur Texas Hold 'Em player from Malibu, California, had taken down the largest jackpot ever in a live poker tournament.
But in a suit filed last Monday, a friend who cheered Gold on claimed he was equally delighted when Gold's pair of queens won the legendary event -- because the men had a handshake deal to split his WSOP earnings.
Crispin Leyser, a British-born television development executive, asserted in the suit that the men had agreed to share a seat at the tournament, and Gold owes him $6 million.
"The defendant now refuses to provide me with 50 percent of the winnings, as we had previously agreed upon," Leyser wrote in an affidavit filed with the suit, which also asks for additional money for punitive damages and attorneys' fees.
Judge blocks payment
A judge in Las Vegas signed a temporary restraining order barring the Rio casino, where the 8,773-player tournament was held, from paying Gold the $12 million. A hearing is set this week.
Gold did not respond to requests for an interview, but immediately after his win on August 11, he said of the money: "I'm going to share it with some of my friends." The rest, he said then, would go to his father, Robert, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease.
According to the suit, Leyser, who lives in Los Angeles, and Gold met in Las Vegas in July, weeks before the tournament began, and bonded over their mutual interest in poker and television. Gold told Leyser that the Internet gambling site Bodog.com had agreed to pay for a $10,000 seat in the tournament for him if he could produce celebrities to wear the company's gear in the tournament.
Although Gold worked as a talent agent before becoming a producer and claims James Gandolfini, Lucy Liu and Felicity Huffman as former clients in his online bio, he turned to Leyser for help, according to the suit.
Leyser arranged for Matthew Lillard, an actor best known for playing Shaggy in the "Scooby Doo" movies, and Dax Shepard, a comedian who has appeared on the MTV show "Punk'd," to wear Bodog apparel. In return, the suit alleges, Gold promised to share his winnings.
In a statement, Bodog acknowledged that Gold brought celebrities to the tournament, but said, "We are unaware of any side deal he may have made in obtaining these celebrities."
Leyser claims to have a voice mail memorializing the oral agreement. According to the suit, Gold, the chip leader going into the final table, called Leyser three hours before play began to reassure him that their deal was still on.
"You've trusted me the whole way, you can trust me a little bit more. I promise you there's no way anybody will go anywhere with your money. It's your money. All right, I send you love," the suit quotes Gold as saying.
A representative for Gold denied that he was trying to cheat Leyser.
"From my limited knowledge, this is a misunderstanding more than anything else," agent Jim Hess said.
Asked whether Gold would pay Leyser, the agent referred questions to Los Angeles attorney Les Abell, who did not return calls.
Casual agreements for huge sums of money might strike many outside the world of poker as foolish and naïve, but Jonathan Grotenstein, the co-author of "All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker," said card players are notorious for making and keeping such deals.
"I don't think anybody in the history of poker has ever written out a formal contract for anything, but there are bets made all the time, everything from staking people in this game to 'I'll bet you $30,000 you can't finish that hamburger,'" Grotenstein said.
He said welshing is unthinkable in the relatively small world of professional poker players.
"If you don't keep your word, you don't have much," he said.
Grotenstein said, however, that Gold, who was not a professional when he won the tournament, is not considered part of that elite world.
Even if people believe Leyser's account, Grotenstein said, "I can't imagine he is going to be totally ostracized from a community he wasn't really part of anyhow."