Tuesday March 8, 2016 at 7:14 pm

One of the most talented writers in the history of Hollywood has been harboring a dark secret over the last decade – a crippling addiction to gambling – which supposedly cost him his entire $100 million fortune. David Milch, a former English Lit professor at Yale and best known as the creator of hit TV shows NYPD Blue and Deadwood, is currently $17 million in debt and being sued by the IRS for over $5 million in back taxes. Another lawsuit details Milch's atrocious gambling problem in which he squandered at least $25 million on horse racing between 2000 and 2011.

David Milch
David Milch, uber-degen gambler, donked off $25 million betting horses in 11 years. (Pic by Hollywood Reporter)

If you want to consider first-ballot Hall of Famers for the Degen Gambling Hall of Fame, then look no further than award-winning television writer David Milch. Last month, a huge story broke in the Hollywood Reporter that Milch gambled away his fortune worth $100 million, which he amassed over a 30-year career as a writer and producer. Milch is over $17 million in debt, including $5 million owed in back taxes and penalties to the IRS. Milch, a highly-successful television writer and producer with 4 Emmy Awards, is most known as the co-creator of NYPD Blue and the head honcho behind Deadwood, which is often regarded one of the greatest shows in the history of television.


Milch graduated from Yale University and was a fraternity brother with George W. Bush (yes, the former President W himself). Milch later taught at Yale as an English literature professor, but got his start in Hollywood by writing a spec script for 1980s cop drama Hill Street Blues. The producers bought Milch's edgy script and he was quickly hired. Milch's first-ever script actually won an Emmy Award. He worked on Hill Street Blues for five seasons androse to the rank of executive producer. Milch stuck with the cop genre and co-created NYPD Blue with Steven Bochco. Critics praised NYPD Blue for its controversial content, nudity, and raw language... all considered edgy for a network television show. After NYPD Blue's run ended, Milch focused on the wild wild west for his next project with Deadwood.


The critically-acclaimed HBO series Deadwood is a gritty, fictionalized version of events in the infamous Dakota Hills mining town in the 1870s. Milch was at the helm as creator, producer, and head writer. He peppered Deadwood's lush Shakespearian dialogue with coarse language and profanity. The short-lived, award winning series only ran for three seasons, but there had been rumors about two feature films to put an appropriate ending to Deadwood storylines.


My dad used to call me a degenerate gambler. You hear that, and you spend time trying to live up to those ideas. I would say gambling became a problem for me. It distorts relationships, the way you want to live. If you don't realize when it has you in its grip, shame on you.

Wild Bill shot
Wild Bill Hickok's shooting is depicted by Milch in Season 1 of "Deadwood"

The first season of Deadwood included the arrival of Wild Bill Hickok. Milch portrayed Hickok as a degenerate card player who was more interested in Five-Card Draw than anything else. In the series, Hickok was spewing money upon his arrival, but as soon as his fortune started to turn, he was shot in the back while still clutching his cards. At the time of his murder, Hickok was holding two pair – Aces and eights – which earned the nickname “Dead Man's Hand.


Milch has been card dead since Deadwood and struggled in the post-Deadwood years. The Hollywood Reporter put it best, “He has admirers and fans across the spectrum of the television world, though he has not had a successful show since Deadwood ended in 2006.”


Milch's last two projects for HBO – John from Cincinnati and Luck – were both busts. John from Cincinnati only lasted one season and HBO execs pulled the plug on Luck before the first season had finished airing. Luck, featuring Dustin Hoffman, was a drama about the vagaries of the modern horse racing industry. Luck was snap-cancelled after a deluge of bad publicity over the death of three horses, all injured during the filming of the series.


The stench of bad luck that Luck was drenched in could not escape Milch. Other projects he had in development fell apart, or never came to fruition. Aside from the rumors of a Deadwood movie, Milch also has a deal with HBO to develop a series based on the writings of southern novelist William Faulkner.


According to the Hollywood Reporter, “A lawsuit, which was filed last year and is proceeding in Los Angeles Superior Court in Santa Monica, indicates that he lost $25 million from gambling between 2000 and 2011 alone. Colleagues estimate he has earned more than $100 million across his three-decade Hollywood career, but the lawsuit reveals he is left with $17 million in debts.”


Milch recently tried to sell his house on Martha's Vineyard, but no one was interested at the $9 million price tag. The new price has been dropped to $7 million. Alas, even the sale of the house is only a portion of the amount Milch owes to the IRS and other creditors. Legal documents also indicate that Milch had borrowed $3 million from Laughlin Philips, a friend who was rumored to be a former CIA agent.


Milch was crazy. He'd bet thousands and thousands of dollars. He'd bet every race.

LUCK and Hoffman
David Milch's "Luck" with Dustin Hoffman, an HBO series about the racing industry in SoCal, was canceled after the unlucky deaths of three horses.

Milch had also owned race horses at different points in his life, but all of the horses were sold. Milch previously owned a colt named Gilded Time, which won the 1992 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.


Milch was a self-admitted drug addict during the 1980s and he had an affinity for heroin. He successfully kicked his drug habit by 1999, but unfortunately he only swapped addictions and instead of heroin, he was getting his fix by betting on the ponies. Milch was first introduced to race tracks in Saratoga by his father, who was a surgeon in Buffalo, New York.


In a blunt interview with the Daily Racing Form, Milch was asked how often he went to Santa Anita, a track outside of Los Angeles. He responded, "It depends on who I'm lying to. I have several different masks that I wear."


Milch always had an outside-the-box approach to writing and showrunning, which is why his shows are unlike anything else. Milch's handicapping expertise fell in line with his writing genius. Although he was a top notch handicapper, Milch had the ability to see outside-the-box when determining exotic bets. Milch hit his fair share of insane wagers, but he also hit the skids more than once. His desperation did him in and he lost focus when handicapping races.


Milch is still regarded in Hollywood circles as a creative genius. His family and close friends hope he can channel his frenetic energy into upcoming projects he's developing, such as the William Faulkner series for HBO or the potential Deadwood movie. Milch's wife, Rita, is also suing their business manager for $25 million for not informing her of the true status of their business affairs and for covering up Milch's degeneracy. The gambling binges at Santa Anita race track had grown so ugly that Milch's business manager had to cut checks totaling $25 million to the race track. At present, Milch's wife only trusts him with a $40 per week cash allowance. She knows that with anything more, he'd drive straight to the track and donk it all off on the ponies.


  • Beverly Hills Buntz (1987)
  • L.A. Law (1992)
  • NYPD Blue (1993-2005)
  • Brooklyn South (1997-98)
  • Big Apple (2001)
  • Deadwood (2004-06)
  • John from Cincinnati (2007)
  • Luck (2012)
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