You Won't Believe the Insane Real Story Behind Molly's GameGet the Full StoryImage Source: Getty Mike Coppola
A movie about a 26-year-old woman running a high-stakes poker ring that leaves high-powered men vying for a seat at her table? And it's true? Yes, please.
I, personally, have been dying to see Molly's Game, the real-life story of Molly Bloom's rise to power in the gambling world, since I saw its first previews. The screenplay is based on Bloom's memoir, Molly's Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys' Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker, and stars Jessica Chastain.
Exactly how did Bloom go from pouring drinks and smiling politely at someone else's poker game at the Viper Room in Hollywood to running her own show in New York City? It was quite the journey. Here's the true story.
The Loveland, CO, native started out life as a skier with Olympic dreams and the talent and family ties to back it up.
"The motivations I had for being successful were somewhat dysfunctional," she said in a recent interview with Fortune.
One of Bloom's brothers is a two-time Olympian who was drafted by the NFL and went on to be named one of the 30 most influential people in technology under the age of 30 by Forbes in 2011. The other is a Harvard Medical School graduate and is now training to be a heart surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"Literally, if you weren't the best in the world in my family, it wasn't impressive," she said. "I was looking for this thing that was going to make me feel fulfilled inside."
But it wouldn't be skiing for her, even after beating scoliosis at the age of 12 with a seven-hour surgery that involved fusing together 11 of her vertebrae with the help of metal rods. She eventually fought her way onto the US Ski Team, only to have an accident which is featured at the beginning of the film dash her hopes of ever competing in the Olympic Games.
That unrelenting need to do more is what her led her to call her nightclub manager out on his hypocrisy for trying to cut her pay in half because she was being tipped so well at his poker games and what motivated her to make her own thing happen.
Molly's Rise to Poker Princess
In the trailer, Bloom confronts her Viper Room boss head-on, saying, "You're gonna stop paying me because I'm making too much doing my second job, and if I say, 'No,' I'll lose both jobs because it doesn't seem fair?"
That was not gonna fly with the real Bloom, whose ambitions fueled her to start a game where she had the final say over Hollywood's elite, prominent professional athletes, CEOs, and, unknown at first to her, the Russian mob.
"I finally had that thing," she told Fortune. "And I think that's what led to the compulsiveness to chasing it so far down the line."
The lines of credit she extended to her players, which included Wall Street financiers and the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Ben Affleck, sometimes reached six figures. One regular game Bloom ran in Manhattan had a 250,000 buy-in.
"One night, I saw someone lose 100 million," Bloom said. "I was bankrolling the games, vetting the players, extending the credit. My life was really stressful."
It was stressful, but it was also making her a lot of money.
"In 2009, my tax returns showed over 4 million," Bloom said. At that time, it wasn't from the game itself, though. It was from the tips from her players. She didn't say exactly how much she made in tips, but she did say, "Sometimes those tips were really big."
Image Source: Getty Mike Marsland
Molly's Fall From Grace
Once the Russian mob caught wind of her operation and got into the game, things took a turn for the worse. Bloom started getting stiffed on debts - and worse.
"I didn't have the traditional resource to collect on debts and I'm certainly not going to be violent about it," she said. She became addicted to drugs, and in the last seven to eight months of her operation, one of her hosts convinced her to start taking a percentage of the pot, known as a "rake" in the poker world.
"That's where I crossed that little gray line," Bloom told Fortune. Soon after that, her cards really took a turn for the worse. It was around Christmastime in 2010 when a man broke into her home and beat her so savagely that she thought she would be permanently "deformed," Bloom told The Times.
The man punched her in the face repeatedly and shoved a gun in her mouth. He told her she was to blame for the attack, because she thought she could "still call the shots" and had been "such a b tch to his friends." He emptied her safe and then told her that he knew where her mother lived, in "a real pretty house in the Colorado mountains." Before leaving, he warned Bloom not to report the beating to police and said, "We could have a good relationship - just don't disrespect us ever again."
Bloom said she immediately thought back to an encounter she had with two men a few weeks before that, where they offered to protect her in exchange for money, but she turned them down. After hiding out for 10 days waiting for her "mangled" face to heal, Bloom got right back to work.
"I wanted to just continue running games," she said. "That's how sick I was."
The Government Comes Knocking
In March 2011, the FBI busted a game that Bloom had organized. Luckily for her, she wasn't there. Her assets were seized by the government, but she managed to flee to her home state of Colorado without being taken into custody. Investigators asked her to be interviewed about organized crime related to her gambling ring, but partially out of fear of retaliation, Bloom declined.
Two years after the pots had paid out, the feds came knocking on her door at 5 a.m. She got herself a defense attorney named Charlie Jaffey, who helped her keep her word not to name names to authorities and also negotiate a deal for the book upon which the movie is based.
Her memoir wouldn't name names, either, even though the movie accurately shows that she was offered a lot more money up front from her book dealer if she would.
"There are two categories of information that I have: one is crimes, and the other one's gossip," Bloom told The Times. "I don't tell the stuff of a criminal nature because I want to stay safe. I don't tell the gossip because . . . it's not me."
The only names mentioned in the book are those that were already made public due to court depositions, Bloom said. Even with all of the danger involved, in addition to the obvious draw of the money, Bloom said it was ambition and credibility that drove her to take things so far. "I was in way too deep," she said, "trying to hang onto this thing that had established and legitimized me."
Molly's Life Now
In the end, Bloom, now in her late 30s, ended up with one year of probation and a 1,000 fine and was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service for her "minor role" in the Russian-American betting ring that authorities believe helped launder more than 100 million, USA Today reported in May 2014. She was also ordered to repay 125,000 in profits. More than 30 people were charged for their involvement in Molly's game.
At her sentencing, the judge asked if anything in her memoir would conflict with the remorse she showed for her actions or if there was anything that would "trouble" him. Bloom said that would not be the case and that she had "made mistakes" but that the entire experience, including the criminal trial, had "been a great opportunity for growth."
"If I had to do it all over, would I choose the same path? My answer is yes, a thousand times, yes," she wrote, in the epilogue to her memoir. "I had a grand adventure. I was brave and I went big. I was also reckless and selfish. I got lost along the way. I abandoned the things that mattered and traded them for wealth and status. I lusted for power and I hurt people. But I was forced to face myself, to lose everything, to fall on my face in front of the world."
While Bloom has been on the upswing financially since her sentencing and her book came out, she remains more than 2 million in debt, she told The Times, and hopes the film will help her erase that line item from her books for good.
Molly's Game opens in theaters on Dec. 25.