09/14/2006 11:00PM

A man's word is his bond. Or is it?

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Honor among gamblers used to be as treasured as the sweet victory of a score and the accompanying cold cash. The rent could be due but the gambling debt would be paid. And, "saving" a bet with a fellow punter with just a nod of the head or a simple word was as good as the gold that backed Fort Knox.

Now this tradition has been called into question by a lawsuit that alleges this year's World Series of Poker champion Jamie Gold reneged on an agreement to split the pot.

The $6 million lawsuit - which is half of the $12 million won by Gold in the World Series of Poker - alleges that Gold agreed to split whatever he won in the world series with Bruce Leyser as compensation for Leyser's help in securing celebrities to endorse the website that ponied up the $10,000 entry fee for Gold.

Gold, a former Hollywood agent, and Leyser, a television executive, met in a Las Vegas poker room and became friends just months before the World Series of Poker event. While discussing a possible television project, Gold reportedly asked Leyser for help in getting the celebrities for Bodog.com in exchange for half of whatever Gold won in the tournament. According to court documents, reports say, Leyser secured at least three celebrities for the endorsements, thus living up to his end of the bargain.

Shortly after Gold outplayed 8,700 players to take the championship in the wee hours of Aug. 11, Leyser awaited his payoff. While Gold posed for the pictures in the bright lights, he said very little to reporters and quickly slipped out of sight.

On Aug. 21, Leyser filed a lawsuit in Las Vegas District Court attempting to freeze the world series payment to Gold until the matter of "breach of contract and unjust enrichment" could be settled. The suit asked Chief District Judge Kathy Hardcastle to issue a temporary restraining order. She did, holding up the payment until a Sept. 1 hearing on the matter.

Gold, through his publicist, quickly issued a statement that said he was disappointed by a person he "only knew since early July." Bodog.com is standing behind Gold in the matter. The Rio Hotel Casino, owned by Harrah's Entertainment and host of the World Series of Poker, had no comment on the situation except to follow the court's direction.

In the absence of a written agreement, Leyser's Las Vegas attorney says his client has a taped phone message allegedly left by Gold just before Gold played on the final table, assuring Leyser that he would get half of whatever Gold won "after taxes." Leyser said that the phone message was meant to reassure him and trust that Gold would live up to their verbal agreement.

Shortly after the Sept. 1 hearing, lawyers for Gold and Leyser agreed to a court injunction that will freeze half of Gold's $12 million winnings instead of holding the entire amount, though Gold may challenge the injunction.

While the last chapter of the Gold saga still has to play out, scrutiny of Gold, Leyser, and their backgrounds continue. Online, there are hundreds of pages of stories and testaments to the character of the parties and the events leading up to the dispute. And, the validity of the dispute itself.

Many old-time poker players view this matter as representative of part of the new generation of poker players who really don't know - or care to participate - in the professional players' unwritten code. They point to the young, reckless players who have cut their teeth on their computer screens at home.

Now, instead of enjoying the spoils of being champion, Gold is the subject of scrutiny and, in some cases, ridicule from tabloids, and some even label him a welcher.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.