Not named in the indictment was Marc Lasry. Still, about a week after the arrests, reports surfaced that he was no longer interested in becoming the ambassador to France. “I am very grateful to have been considered, but I would like to put the speculation to rest,” he wrote to Avenue’s investors on April 23. A source close to Lasry insisted that his decision had nothing to do with poker. That didn’t stop another source from telling the Post that Lasry’s appearances at these games “open a can of worms” that would have endangered his bid.
“Today’s charges demonstrate the scope and reach of Russian organized crime,” George Venizelos, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the bureau’s New York office, said as the suspects—minus the fugitive oligarch in Russia—were being rounded up across the country. But the fact that the games could attract someone as powerful as Lasry is a testament of sorts to the woman at the center of it all. Molly Bloom’s name appears just a few times in the indictment; she is accused of running an illegal gambling business and depositing two checks totaling $25,900 into a bank account in California. But prosecutors might have needed someone like her to make this case: a natural social connector with an artful knack for curating an irresistible poker game. All of which earned her the nickname the “Poker Princess.”
In the beginning, Molly Bloom was like any number of anonymous arrivals in Hollywood searching for a career. What made her story different was that she found success almost right away, and it was more lucrative than she ever could have imagined. In L.A. and later New York, her games were a unique space where worlds collided seamlessly: poker, fine art, Hollywood, Wall Street, politics, pro sports. But for someone with such an undeniable talent, Bloom has always been hard to pin down. She’s often described in general terms: ambitious, clever, beautiful. She’s never spoken publicly, except in court. Even those closest to her are protective of her reputation, singing her praises as they hint at her failings. “She’s determined,” one friend says. “Molly’s never had anything handed to her on a silver platter.” Says another friend, more ruefully: “Molly could have done a lot of things.”
Molly Bloom grew up in Loveland, Colorado, a small town about an hour north of Denver. Her father, Larry, is a clinical psychologist, and her mother, Char, is a ski instructor who let Molly and her two younger brothers run free on the Keystone mountains. According to a friend, Molly developed scoliosis when she was young and doctors told her she couldn’t ski, but she ignored them, worked twice as hard, and made the U.S. team anyway. While Molly’s brother Jeremy went on to compete in the Olympics twice, Molly dropped the sport. At Colorado State University, she studied political science and, it appears, got an early start as a party host. When she was 18, the police reportedly busted her once in her dorm for various disorderly-conduct charges including serving alcohol to minors.
In 2003, Bloom moved to L.A. and found work as a cocktail waitress. One night, she got to talking with a group of guys who worked for the same real-estate company, and they hired her to assist one of them, Darin Feinstein, who had recently bought a stake in the Viper Room. After a matter of months, Feinstein announced that she would be running a poker game for him in the basement of the club. The guest list would include the biggest star of the moment, Tobey Maguire, who was just coming off the second Spider-Man movie. Friends say she knew nothing about poker at the time.
Maguire had been hosting a poker game at his house that was getting too big to manage on his own. Unlike the old fossils at Gabe Kaplan’s and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s games, the regulars at Maguire’s were mostly his contemporaries—young directors and producers like Todd Phillips, Nick Cassavetes, and Steven Brill. He had started at about the same time that a player named Chris Moneymaker, the man with the perfect last name and out-of-nowhere backstory, paid a $39 online-tournament qualifying fee and ended up winning the 2003 World Series of Poker’s main event in Las Vegas, having never before played in a professional tournament. Suddenly, the American Dream had come alive in poker. It was the only game that everyone in the world could watch on TV and visualize themselves doing on a professional level.
And for a certain type of player, movie stars among them, a private game will always be preferable to Vegas. At casinos, anyone in the world can sit down next to you. Home games are controlled. In a few respects, they’re confining: It’s expected you’ll stay the night, or you won’t get invited back. You can’t just bring a friend with you, unless that friend is a big fish, and it’s understood that you can keep certain people out; the mix becomes something worth obsessing over. Players aren’t judged just by the size of their wallet but by their style of play—if they’re “good for the game” or “not good for the game.” A person with a lot of money who slowly siphons cash from other players without winning or losing big is, for instance, not good for the game.