From the Ski Slopes to the Viper Room
Molly was born and raised in Loveland, Colorado. Her passion for skiing comes from her mom – a ski and snowboard instructor. After studying political science at the University of Colorado Boulder, she had plans to go to Harvard Law School. Things took a twist when Bloom was involved in a ski accident. Speaking to Ellen DeGeneres, Bloom said, ‘I was on the U.S. Ski Team. I was third in North America, and I crashed pretty horrifically on my Olympic qualifying run’. That life-changing crash marked the end of Bloom’s ski career, and the once Olympic-hopeful had to think of a new plan.
Bloom upped sticks and moved to Los Angeles, taking a job as a cocktail waitress. When Darin Feinstein, co-owner of The Viper Room, asked her to help host a poker game, she was all in, despite not being an expert in the rules of poker. The Viper Room is popular with the rich and famous, and on Bloom’s very first night assisting with a poker game, she claims to have earned $3,000 in tips. This was a compelling enough reason for her to pursue this as a career.
Molly decided to start her own lucrative business running poker games. Coming from a successful family, she’d always had a competitive streak in her. Bloom says that ‘When I was a cocktail waitress I got hit on and I was treated like an object a lot’. Running poker games gave Bloom a newfound status and respect that she enjoyed – ‘it was a whole different dynamic’.
Molly Bloom began independently running her own poker games in 2007. What had started off at The Viper Room with buy-ins of $10, 000, soon moved on to hotels and people’s homes with hands as big as $4 million. With big names, came big money. Although Bloom has been secretive about the identities of many of the celebrities who used to come to her games, many famous names are now known. Hollywood actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are well-known poker enthusiasts. Others such as the Olsen twins would come to watch, attracted to the exclusivity of the club. Tobey Maguire, of Spider Man fame, also became tangled up in Molly’s story. In her book, she describes how poorly he tipped, despite winning millions. Other bad behavior included demanding that Bloom ‘bark like a seal’ for a $1,000 poker chip. Things began to unravel for Bloom when Maguire informed her that she’d lost her game, and it was going to take place at another player’s house from then on.
Maguire’s reputation comes out badly in the book, although Bloom as many positive things to say about other famous players. She recalls that Ben Affleck was a ‘smart player who liked to limit his downside’. When Alex Rodriguez, the retired Yankee player, walked in the room men ‘turned into excitable little boys’.
The Beginning of the End
After losing the game in LA, Molly moved her operations to New York. In New York she wasn’t able to maintain the same level of control over the game as she’d had in LA. Things soon got out of hand. A growing drug and alcohol addiction made matters worse. Using drugs helped her stay up all night hosting games, but led to anxiety and depression too. The games’ stakes climbed higher and higher, putting bloom herself at risk. If a player refused to pay their losses, she would end up paying. She began to take a percentage of the pot to create a safety net, which pushed the games into illegality. Her client base had changed from Hollywood actors to Russian oligarchs and multi-millionaires from Wall Street.
Molly Bloom’s life was spiraling out of control. She describes her compulsive lifestyle as an addiction in itself. She had developed and insatiable greed for money and power.
When the Russian Mafia offered her paid protection in 2010, she refused. This might have been a bold move, but it had terrible consequences. The mob broke into her home and stole her valuables. Even worse though, they beat her horribly and put a gun to her head. She describes the encounter as ‘Terrifying. I thought I was going to die’. It turned out the Russian mafia had been playing in her games, although she was unaware. Her illegal games were getting dodgier and it was only a matter of time before she’d find herself in trouble with the law.
The Law Catches up with Molly
2011 was the year it all fell apart for Molly Bloom. The FBI stormed her house and she was arrested. She was told she could face up to 10 years in prison for profiting from hosting illegal games. Instead, her lawyer helped to bring it down to probation, a $200,000 fine and community service. She wasn’t the only one arrested for her involvement in illegal gambling and money laundering. About 30 other players were arrested too, including Bradley Ruderman.
It was actually Ruderman’s connection that drew the FBI’s attention to Molly’s illegal games. Ruderman had been running a Ponzi scheme and lost $5 million of his clients’ money in the poker games. In the lawsuits that followed, many of the names of Hollywood’s rich and famous attendees were revealed. Players like Tobey Maguire, Dan Bilzerian and Nick Cassavettes were sued for money that they had won from Ruderman. If only they had played in a safe and regulated market, such as for instance with the uk online casino platforms, they wouldn’t have had these issues!
Molly’s memoir, entitled ‘Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World’ was published in 2014. She refused to name celebrities that had played in her poker games, unless they had already been publically named. The book’s success allowed her to pay off debts from the legal battles. Aaron Sorkin adapted the book for the film ‘Molly’s Game’. It got nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the 2018 Academy Awards. The film stays close to the truth, although names are altered.