The True Story of Molly’s Game

Molly's Game movie poster

Published: June 17, 2024
Written by Global Poker

Molly Bloom ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game. But how much of the movie, Molly’s Game is actually true?

Boasting an all-star cast and gripping plot, the movie Molly’s Game is based on a best-selling 2014 memoir of the same name, written by underground celebrity poker mogul, Molly Bloom. But how much of the hit movie is actually based on real events? Here’s all you need to know…

Who is Molly Bloom?

From former Olympian-class skier to head honcho of an illegal, high-profile L.A. gambling ring, on hearing Molly Bloom’s dramatic—and admittedly, slightly unbelievable—story for the first time, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was fiction. There’s far too much going on for this to be reality, right?

Surprisingly, the majority of it’s all true. Well, most of it. The movie did embellish a few added extras for dramatic effect.

Molly Bloom was in fact a freestyle mogul skier who had her dreams of qualifying for the Olympics shattered following a freak accident during her Olympics trial—she hit a tiny twig that was just big enough to dislodge one of her ski boots, causing a catastrophic wipe-out and debilitating back injury that ultimately ended her entire sports career.

Not the kind of person to admit defeat—Olympic athletes tend to have a formidable aptitude for bouncing back in the face of adversity—Molly Bloom left her glittering ski career for the bright lights of Hollywood instead.

She moved to L.A. from Colorado fresh out of college, with the intention of taking a year off before heading to law school. Despite her parents' objections—they were far from happy with her decision to swerve law school—Bloom made the bold and defiant move to set herself up in sunny L.A.

With no money and no job, Bloom slept on a friend’s couch and started waitressing to make ends meet. It was here that she met a real estate investor who was looking for an assistant. She landed the job, part of which involved organizing weekly celebrity poker games at the Viper Room (renamed The Cobra Lounge in the movie), and that’s where it all begins. 

What is Molly's Game about?

An explosive story of ambition, determination and vice, Molly’s Game is a high octane, female-driven drama that details the rise and fall of infamous Poker Princess, Molly Bloom. Bloom built a big name for herself on the poker scene during the 2000s by running a series of secret multimillion-dollar poker games for the wealthy elite. 

Attracting some of the biggest names in business and showbiz—Bloom’s exclusive underground operation became a popular playing ground for celebrities, billionaires, musicians, athletes, rappers and business tycoons alike—her high-stakes games, hosted in some of the most glamorous back rooms and hotel suites of Hollywood, would see players grind it out for huge buy-ins, sometimes paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a piece of the action. 

The games were glamorous and exclusive with big names arguably as big as the buy-ins themselves. Bloom was running the show and her efforts for that were rewarded lucratively. She became the biggest game runner in the world, and one of the highest paid, too. Her entire earnings were based on the tips she was given from players, which, as the games’ buy-in’s got bigger, so did her tips—in her book, Molly’s Game, she wrote that she earned up to a whopping $4 million one year.

And that’s where the story starts to get juicy. Although the games themselves weren’t illegal—her payment came in the form of tips, and she paid taxes on this income which ensured the poker games were legitimate and all above board—Bloom ran into trouble after she was stiffed $250,000, so she began taking a rake (a percentage of the pot in hands) to insure against any losses if players weren’t able to settle their debt, which is illegal. The FBI eventually got wind of the scheme and launched a full investigation, accusing her of money laundering and running an illegal gambling operation.

How did Molly Bloom get involved in the celebrity poker underworld in the first place?

It was, by all accounts, an entire accident that Molly Bloom wound up running the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she revealed that she didn’t know the first thing about poker. Her newly appointed real estate boss had asked her to help organize a weekly celebrity poker game at Hollywood celebrity hangout, the Viper Room—the club had been partly owned by Johnny Depp from 1993 to 2004, and it was also made famous for being the location where River Phoenix died of an overdose in 1993.

She arrived at the first game dressed to impress, with a cheese plate and a mix CD of songs from a resourceful google search: “what kind of music do poker players like to listen to?” and “what do they eat?” It was here she then found herself rubbing shoulders regularly with the incredibly rich and famous—not to mention making a good profit from her tips. She revealed to NPR, “I was a fly on the wall, and I'm privy to all this inside information about all these different industries. ... And at the end of the night, people were tipping me and I made more money that night than I'd made the whole month."

She realized very quickly that this was an opportunity to start building connections with a network of highly influential people. In an interview with Ellen, she said, “I recognized in that instant that this is not an opportunity that a girl from Colorado gets. There were Wall Street titans. There were billionaires. There were A-list actors, the most famous people we see on television, politicians, and they’re all seated around this table playing this game that I didn’t know what it was but it seemed to be super compelling to them.”

“It just occurred to me instantly: This is a massive opportunity to build a network, [...] Who gets that opportunity? I lived across from a cornfield when I was growing up. And so I really wanted to stay in the room. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And all of a sudden, here were the most successful people from all these different walks of life who could maybe open doors for me.” LA Times.

And so she took initiative, swotted up on poker and soon became so good at organizing the games, she convinced the players at the Viper Room to play with her instead. She set up her own company, Molly Bloom Inc, and invited some of L.A.’s wealthiest elite to join her underground operation. Which didn’t prove too difficult—with Bloom’s influence, the games went from a dingy backroom basement to decadent hotel suites with fine dining on tap and beautiful women dishing out massages to tiresome players.  She’d stay up as long as the games lasted—in some cases, for three days—to make sure that her VIPs were well looked after.

So what went wrong?

In 2009, she decided to move her operation to New York in a bid to attract some of Wall Street’s financiers. But that’s where the trouble started. Her games in L.A. were legal—as we mentioned earlier, her salary came from the generous tips the players gave her, which she paid tax on. But in New York, she started to extend more and more credit to the players. Bloom began losing a substantial amount of her own money. She was ultimately guaranteeing the game and allowing those players to play by vouching for them with her funds.

“I was guaranteeing the game,” she explained to LA Times. “I was essentially giving them money to play. It wasn’t like, ‘Thanks for bringing me a drink’ or ‘Thanks for inviting me.’ It was like, ‘Thanks for allowing me to win $5 million with the money you vouched for.’”

She needed bigger players with even bigger bankrolls. But that attracted the wrong kind of players to her game, including some members of the Russian mob and the Italian mafia, who beat Bloom within an inch of her life for refusing to partner with them. 

Not only was she hemorrhaging money, she was also working relentlessly, staying up for days on end, taking pills to stay awake, then drinking alcohol to wind down. She found herself in a downward spiral, making reckless decisions and getting herself into more and more debt. And so, one night she made a fateful decision that cost her everything. She decided to take a rake—a percentage of each pot in the poker game—making the game illegal. 

In a conference hosted by Mogul X, Bloom gave a talk entitled, Changing the Game. She said, “I looked at a table one night of a game that I was running, and I saw a lot of bad debt—because I’d been reckless about who I let play. I hadn’t slept in a while and definitely wasn’t sober, and I signaled my dealer to take 2%. And that was a mistake that would cost me everything.”

How did Molly get shut down by the FBI? 

After her violent run-in with Italian mobsters, things started to spiral out of control for Bloom. In 2011, the FBI got wind of her scheme—she was outed by one of her players who was allegedly running a Ponzi scheme—and shut down one of her games. Because she’d received money from him, Bloom then became part of a wider investigation and was subsequently accused of money laundering and running an illegal gambling operation. 

Her assets were seized by the FBI and she was later arrested. At just 34-years old, Bloom was facing up to 10 years in prison and was fined a whopping US $1.5 million. She was also ordered by the IRS to pay taxes on the additional income she’d made.

Bloom was broke and desperate. Everything she’d worked so hard to achieve was crumbling down in front of her. She didn’t know what to do. The government had seized all her assets, she had no means of paying the IRS, and the FBI were accusing her of running an illegal gambling ring. She was facing years in prison, unless she turned over the names of her players. 

Prosecutors offered to restore her assets and even clear her record if she gave them the player names they wanted. But, in an interview with NPR Bloom revealed that, “I made these choices. To turn around when I was in trouble and take people down with me felt wrong. I could survive a couple years of jail if it came to that, but stepping on other people and the sort of collateral damage to their families and everything—that felt like a life sentence."

So what happened next? 

Without access to any of her funds, Bloom’s mother had to put up her house to get her out of jail, but she was still the focus of the FBI’s investigation. U.S. prosecutors were targeting her for involvement in organizing illegal games, and they wanted to put pressure on her to spill the beans on her players.  

Despite pressing her to reveal the names of powerful men who played at her table, Bloom refused. So, in May 2014, the investigation went to trial. The hearing luckily ruled in her favor—the judge ruled that she had been a minor player in an illegal gambling ring and sentenced her to one year’s probation, 200 hours’ community service, and a fine of $1,000. 

After a short stint in rehab, she moved back in with her mother in Colorado. It was then she decided that landing a book deal could help pay off some of her debts. 

Unsurprisingly, publishers were eager to snap up Bloom’s memoir, but with one caveat: she had to reveal stories about the stars who played at her table. But she wasn’t keen. Regardless of her mounting debts, she still wanted to protect the privacy of her high-profile players, and agreed to only disclose names that had been previously revealed in court as part of the FBI’s investigation. It was this display of heroic integrity that piqued the interest of movie director, Aaron Sorkin, who subsequently made the book into a film in 2017. 

What is Molly Bloom doing now?

Her book, Molly's Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker, was published in 2014, shortly after her court hearing. To this day, she still hasn’t dished the dirt on her players. Both her book, and the film, allude to some of the A-lister celebs who frequented her tables—we can’t name them, (particularly player X), but you can easily find out from a few resourceful Google searches—but she’s never officially revealed for sure. This makes the story, and Molly’s character, even more fascinating. 

Having officially hung up her heels and abandoned the world of high-stakes poker, Bloom is dedicating her efforts to empowering and guiding other women, drawing from her own experience as a mentee of remarkable and vibrant women. In 2020, she initiated the One World Group to aid women navigating diverse difficulties, particularly those intensified by the worldwide pandemic. Additionally, in 2022, she introduced TORCHED, a fresh podcast exploring the intricate narratives surrounding Olympic achievements.