December 29, 2017

The True Story Behind ‘Molly’s Game’ Is Wild

Remember that crazy time when a hopeful Olympian-class skier named Molly Bloom received a debilitating back injury thanks to a lone stick in some snow? The same skier who years later would end up running an illegal, but high-profile gambling ring in LA? The same high-profile gambling ring that hosted celebs like Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio? The same DiCaprio that acted in movie about the Irish mob...but has nothing to do with the actual Russian mob that beat Molly within inches of her life? Oh, and that same life that was nearly destroyed by the FBI that came rushing in to shut her shit down? Remember that time? I sure as hell didn’t, and can still barely believe it after having seen Molly’s Game. Come Christmas Day, this story will be immortalized for everyone else to question thanks to director and writer Aaron Sorkin.

And yes, it’s pretty good, but the movie still left me with questions. In my attempt to understand this story that comes off as some drunkard's fable, I spoke the woman herself, Molly Bloom. I needed the whole thought process behind this scary and insane ride. How has she grown since then? And is Tobey Maguire (aka Spiderman) still the same dick as Molly’s Game shows him to be?

This film was very intimate and very truthful. Almost like a visual diary. What was it like to see those flawed parts of your life displayed so honestly?
Molly Bloom: Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed an extraordinary film. A lot of what makes it so special is that he allowed my character to be me, to be flawed. He allowed for an honest and complex picture of what it’s like to just be a human being and make choices. I gotta say, there’s something very cathartic for me about first coming out with my book, and then telling on yourself and living through that. I kept a lot of the dirt to myself before the film, but after working eight months with Aaron, I really kinda came clean. Between the novel and working with Aaron, I’ve probably did 20 years worth of therapy (laughs).

And you had to have some initial fears about the project before it came out. This was going to be all about you.
Well it was I that pursued Aaron specifically because in writing the book, I had left a huge mess of my life and a big part of that was knowing that my mom had to put her house up just to help me with my legal bills. And my criminal attorney, much like in the film, personally vouched for me for $250,000 that I didn’t have and it saved my butt. So it wasn’t just my life I was trying to save, it was also the people that were important to me. When I took in the personal inventory after the wreckage I had caused, the story itself seemed like the most monetizable asset so that I could be closer to paying these people back. So here I was after writing this book, going around Hollywood asking anyone if they could get me a meeting with Aaron and they’re just laughing at me (laughs). I just wanted to try, so once we met, everything changed once he was on board. He fought hard for this story that wasn’t about a girl that falls in love. It didn’t have cliche themes. He just wanted to tell an honest story and put his career on the line for having us interact at all, because no one wanted to touch this because of the famous people involved. There was a fear in Hollywood.

You could have ruined a lot of lives with what you knew. One of the things that seemed so telling was how much you were willing to fall on your own sword. And good people were telling you otherwise. Where was your resolve coming from?
I made these choices. I made the choice to go into the world of underground poker. I profited from it, and these people enabled me to profit from it. When I met the consequences for those choices, the consequences including losing all of my money and facing jail time. And it really felt like, if I turned around and threw all these people under the bus, I would never have been able to get my integrity back and that would’ve been a life sentence. That didn’t compare to the life sentence of knowing that I made this really terrible choice and ruined lives.

Throughout this whole thing, you had that moral fibre which is honestly weird given the stereotypes of illegal gambling. Like collecting debts for instance, you never resorted to violence. How did you wrestle with those potential decisions business-wise?
Taking full responsibility and accountability was the secret here. I had to do my job properly. Sure, if I had figured out a way to have private investigators get information from banks, I could have found pretty much anything on anyone. So if I was doing my job, there would be no reason that I couldn’t collect. So when someone stiffed me, nine times out of 10, it was my fault. I ate it, I mean what was I going to do? I didn’t have any traditional resources, and I wasn’t a bank so I wasn’t going to intimidate anyone either (laughs). My main responsibility was in vetting these players and making sure they were capitalized, and that was the key to not getting stiffed. The very worst time I got screwed ended up costing me $250,000 and that really hurt. But I wrote the check, what are you gonna do?

Full names were never mentioned too, despite the fact we know about people like Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire participated in your gambling ring.
Yeah. When I sat down to write a book I was like, how do I do this in a way that still tells a compelling story without doing too much harm. Most of the names were already in the public domain from the Bradley Ruderman ponzi scheme. I got rejected by every publisher except for one because they wanted the real dirt. They knew I had more, and of course I did. But I was like look, I’ll mention the names that have already been mentioned and I’ll give it colour, but I’m not going down that road where I tell things that would sell books but also hurt people in the process.

You really did have that dirt. I don’t generally hang with celebrities but you saw a lot of private sides to them. Did your view of that whole celebrity culture change from before to after this whole experience?
Well there’s that first night when you walk into a game, and being in my early 20s from a small town, and seeing very famous people in the flesh, it’s jarring. It just feels weird. But it normalizes really quickly when you see that people are just people. And very quickly, the game was my startup in terms of building a business. Celebrities were assets to me. And yeah, maybe you and I don’t have this big fantasy about celebrities at this stage, but it matters. People want to sit at a table with them, be close to them, and this was a big draw to the game. The whole system took on a new meaning to me when I was looking at it through the lens of building a business.

And we gotta talk about the instance of you being roughed up by a section of the Russian mob after you turned down an offer for protection. Most people would have left at that point. But you continued with the intent to eventually get out. Honestly, how far would you have gone if the FBI and such never stepped in?
Wow...I think it would have been a really bad ending honestly. That was a really dark thing that happened during the darkest time of my life. I just think that the enemy within me was more formidable than the enemy without at the time because I kept going. I had very little regard for my safety or my life, and I was just like, no, I gotta run more games. Gotta collect more money. Who am I without this thing? I can’t go back to being a nobody. Those things eclipsed basic survival, and I had this really deep, dark awareness that my life was out of control. And as a final blow, there came the FBI...but maybe it was a good thing at the end of the day.

So has your perspective on success or wealth changed since this experience?
Oh my god, absolutely. When I was making the most money, at the top of my game, driving Bentleys and all that, I felt so existentially empty. All these ideas I had as a kid about making a lot of money—about being hyper successful and life being good. I now know that not to be true. And I’m not knocking success or ambition, that’ll always be a part of me, but I know for sure that I did it all wrong in my former life. I know for sure that you have to re-define power as power that comes from within. Success needs to be more comprehensive and attached to something with meaning. What I did was bold, I was damn good at it, and I was successful but none of it was important. It meant nothing. I was enabling people’s addictions and I felt lives come apart. All that external adulation came from growing up with two impressive brothers and a father that was really focused on that idea that I needed to build myself on the outside in. That I needed to seek applause or approval from the world. That’s a sure way to feel really miserable (laughs).

So level with me. Is there any aspect of that life that you still miss?
For a long time...I grieved over [the] glamour of that life. It’s been seven years though, and this is a pretty exciting moment for me. It feels similar in that you take a big risk, and you put in the time, and the stakes are super high while you just wait and see.

What do you want people to take away from your personal story of ups and downs based on where you are now? Let’s put the movie aside.
I would want them to know that when your life falls apart, or it feels like you’re never going to get where you need to go that it’s not over. It’s not even close to being over. Keep getting up and showing up. The human spirit is so resilient and failure teaches you so much. This was the theme for me in 2011, because when this whole thing blew up, there was a deep fear that nothing was ever going to be okay, and now, it’s so much more than okay. There was for a long time. I grieved that life for a long time. But it has been seven years and this is a pretty exciting moment. This is a moment that feels sort of similar in that you take a big risk, and you put in time, the stakes are super high, and you wait and see.

So you did this thing and you were damn good at it, despite that illegal part. What do you plan on doing from here?
I kinda want to take a look at the skill set that I had acquired from this experience and all that I had learned throughout these years and apply it in a way that has actual meaning. Something that centres around what’s important to me. Building a community and collaborating with other ambitious women is a really interesting area to me. I was always able to network and build environments, and a co-working space for women with a digital layer on top is really interesting. And i have to say, not at the exclusion of men. My brand of feminism is not supremacy, it’s equality. But I recognize the power in shared experiences.

So going back to the film, what was that one thing that surprised you the most when seeing your life reflected back on film?
I just...couldn’t believe how someone could take this information I had given, and recreate it so well in such a compelling fashion. Seeing it come to life was amazing. It’s like Aaron was there. He didn’t deviate from the truth. A lot of films in this biopic category play with a lot of creative licenses, and yes, there was some of that in terms of how he dealt with certain composite characters, but the rest was all true. He found a way to weave it all together.

So last question. Did Tobey Maguire ever reach out to you for treating you like shit and essentially asking you to bark like a seal for a tip?
(laughs) No, but it's OK though.

Can you ever look at this guy as Spiderman the same way again?
I haven't even tried (laughs).

December 21, 2017

Slovenian and Croatian police arrest 11 in cross-border raids on match-fixing gang

Slovenian and Croatian polices yesterday swooped on an international match-fixing crime syndicate making 11 arrests after 13 house searches and impounding 15 vehicles in both countries.

Those arrested are accused of organised crime, sports corruption and illegal betting. The charges include multiple counts of fixing professional matches in Serbia, the Czech Republic and Romania.

Slovenian media is reporting that one of those arrested is 43-year-old Dino Lalić, supposedly a member of the criminal ‘gypsy clan’ gang. A former professional goalkeeper who played for several Slovenian clubs, Lalić has been convicted of match-fixing previously but earned a lesser sentence after co-operating with police.

The arrests came after the police had tracked the gang via a number of illegal web betting platforms used to place large bets with Asian bookmakers. Most bets, according to a Europol report, were being placed on the final result of matches.

Using the illegal betting platforms members of the group transferred money through various virtual currency exchanges, including Skrill and Paysafe. Money won via the bets was transferred to an internet bank and then on to different off-shore shell companies.

“The ring developed synergies with other top criminal groups in different countries in order to invest money gained from other serious crimes, including drug trafficking,” said Europol.

As well as the arrests the police seized 35 computers and IT devices, 32 mobile phones, €19,650 in cash, 38,500 of counterfeit euro banknotes and two vehicles.

Investigators first began tracking the crime ring last March, with the Slovenian taking the lead, supported by Europol’s analytical resources and neighbouring police forces. Europol stressed the need for cross-border co-operation in what is becoming a more sophisticated criminal activity.

Sergio D’Orsi, a specialist in Europol’s Analysis Project Sports Corruption, said: “Sports Corruption is a serious crime and a truly global phenomenon carried out by organised crime groups, most often operating cross-border.

“This international investigation has shown the level of sophistication reached by certain criminal networks involved in sports corruption which use new modus operandi to generate large illegal profits and invest money also coming from other serious crimes. International police cooperation is fundamental to disrupt such criminal networks.

Darko Majhenič, Director of National Bureau of Investigations of the Slovenian Police said: “Slovenian Police is committed to pursue corruption in sport and Illegal betting in the region. Cooperation among Europol member countries and support of Europol have helped our skilled investigators to handle the workload. Investigators all over Europe will benefit from evidence gathered today.”

December 12, 2017

Premier League star 'banned by bookmaker after spending £5.5 million in a matter of months'

A Premier League star has been banned from a bookmaker after spending £5.5MILLION in a matter of months, according to reports.

The footballer has not been named but is believed to earn around £100,000 a week.

He was spending upwards of £250,000 a week via online casino games on a popular betting website before the alarm was raised.

The firm, which has not been named either, has now shut down his account.

A source told the Sun on Sunday: "He was deemed a compulsive gambler and it was flagged up to managers.

"The total cash that went through his account was more than £5.5million.

"Most sites love it when punters are depositing such amounts frequently.

"But when someone’s doing it at this rate people get worried."

It comes as a number of footballers have opened up about problems with gambling.

Former stars Clarke Carlisle and John Hartson are among those who agree action must be taken to help addicts.

The Professional Players Federation said earlier this week the situation is at "crisis" point.

The organisation also urged "responsible bookmakers" to ensure sponsorship agreements with a sport include provision for mandatory education for participants about the risks of problem gambling.

November 22, 2017

Unnamed Northern Ireland Bookmaker Arrested for having FOBTs

In a landmark case a bookmaker in Northern Ireland has been arrested for having Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).

A file has already been sent to the Public Prosecution Service who will decide if the unnamed bookmaker will be charged and go to court for trial.

Currently there are some 600 FOBTs in Northern Ireland who has devolved powers on gaming which differ from the rest of the UK.

In Northern Ireland it is stated that a “Gaming Machine” has a maximum stake of £0.30, however a FOBT currently has a maximum of £100.

The bookmakers in Northern Ireland, Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power, Sean Graham, McLean’s and Toal’s argue that FOBTs are not classified as Gaming Machines and so do not fall in to the £0.30 stake.

It is understood that this arrest and case will be a test for the classification of FOBTs in Northern Ireland. The decision is not expected to be a quick one from the Prosecutors Office and if and when the Bookmaker in question will be named.

November 13, 2017

German banks involved in illegal online casino payments

On Wednesday, German newspape Süddeutsche Zeitungand public broadcaster NDR fingered DZ Bank, Postbank, Hypo-Vereinsbank and Wirecard for processing payments from internationally licensed online casino operators, in apparent contravention of Germany’s current gambling laws.

Evidence of the four financial institution’s connections with the online gambling sites came via the release of the so-called Paradise Papers, the latest document dump by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in its ongoing efforts to shine a light on the financial dealings of the world’s 1%.

So far, the banks have issued statements denying that their activities were in violation of current German gambling laws, which prohibit online gambling outside of sports betting.

But the Interior Ministry of the state of Lower Saxony begs to differ, suggesting the banks could be found guilty of facilitating illegal gambling operations, as well as potential money laundering charges, although no one’s so far suggested any such charges are forthcoming.

Among the online operators’ namechecked in discussion of the banks’ activities are Bwin, Tipico, Royal Panda, Casino Club, amid others. Some of these, like Bwin and Tipico, hold online gambling licenses issued by the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, which enacted its own, more liberal licensing regime rather than sign on to the sports-only federal gambling treaty approved by Germany’s other 15 states in 2012.

Germany has targeted international online casino operators in the past by going after these sites’ local customers, but both German and European Union courts have questioned the government’s ability to sanction international sites due to lingering questions over the legality of Germany’s federal betting rules.

Schleswig-Holstein and three other states recently announced that they intended to follow their own path toward online gambling regulation, effectively dooming the revised federal treaty, which was to take effect January 1, 2018, provided it could secure the unanimous consent of all 16 German länder.

Last month, a Federal Administrative Court upheld the constitutionality of Germany’s ban on online casino and poker products, but the German Sports Betting Association (DSWV) was quick to issue a statement saying the court hadn’t given thumbs-up to the government’s original plan to issue 20 sports betting licenses, which only left the country in its current state of limbo.

November 08, 2017

Paddy Power unwilling to bet big on US growth plan

Earlier this week, the US state passed laws legalising certain betting activity such as online poker, casino games and betting on fantasy sports leagues. Paddy Power-Betfair has a strong presence in the US — via its TVG online horse racing outlet, its New Jersey-based online casino offering and Draft, a New York-based outlet focused on fantasy sports league betting, which it acquired earlier this year — and has welcomed the move in Pennsylvania.

However, outgoing chief executive Breon Corcoran told analysts on the company’s third quarter earnings call that it is unlikely to usher in a wholesale loosening of US betting laws.

“With respect to sports betting [in the US], in particular, I think we’re probably less bullish than most people. We think there’s an awful long way to go from where we are today to a legalised framework for sports betting that’s accessible to offshore operators,” he said.

“Draft is showing that we can acquire customers that we wouldn’t have acquired through the horse racing business. But, we still think sports betting, as we know it in Europe, is a long way away [in the US],” Mr Corcoran — who is formally leaving the company in early January — added.

Chief financial officer Alex Gersh, however, said that if that opinion was to be proven wrong, the group has substantially more ability than its competitors to invest in the US.

Paddy Power-Betfair’s third quarter trading update showed a 9% year-on-year increase in group revenue to £440m (€502m) and a 7% rise in underlying earnings to £121m. Mr Corcoran called the performance “encouraging” — particularly with the absence of any major football tournament in the late summer months.

Online revenue fell 3%, year-on-year, to £216m and gaming revenue was flat at £60m, with management saying it has no idea when that part of the business will return to growth. Overall, management expects full-year group earnings to be between £450m and £465m. Last year it generated earnings of £400m.

Third quarter retail revenues rose 12%, with the group announcing it has reached agreement — with an unnamed party — for the acquisition of another five UK shops. On a geographical basis, US revenues rose 18% and Australia-based revenues were up 29%. Most of the bets the group took on September’s Conor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather boxing match came via its Australian online avenue.

Woman wins £574,278.41 from £1 bet after she picked 12-match accumulator by choosing teams whose names she liked the sound of

A woman with little interest in football has managed to win £574,278.41 from a £1 accumulator bet.

The unnamed 58-year-old housewife put together a 12-team football accumulator, which she only bets on because she is sick of having to deal with her husband and son watching football on television every weekend.

Most of the teams selected on the betting slip were odds against outsiders. And one of the results only came in during the 92nd minute as Steve Cook scored for Bournemouth at Newcastle.

There was no skill or knowledge involved in the selection process either. Her son read out the weekend's fixtures and the woman picked 12 teams from the sound of their name alone.

Carli Faulkner, the employee from William Hill's Leysdown-on-Sea shop who paid out the bet, said she was delighted for the winner.

Faulkner said: 'It is incredible that the lady got them all up. Usually customers laugh when they see a payout figure on the bottom of their slip like £574,000, but this just goes to show it can happen.

'They will be having a cracking Christmas and I am delighted for them as it's real girl power landing a bet like that. My biggest ever payout before this was around £25,000.'

William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams said: 'Apparently, the lady's husband had been doing the £1 weekend acca since he was 18, so 40 years of practice on football punting.

'His wife started doing the same bet about six years ago, so she certainly had lady luck on her side as her hubby has never had a win anything like that.

'It just goes to show if you can't beat them join them and the payout in this case is absolutely fantastic.

'We wish them well.

'In my 15 years in the business working for William Hill I have never encountered a bigger football win by a female punter for just a quid.'

November 03, 2017

Malaysian gambling crackdown forces Playtech to issue profit warning

Problems in Asia and a troublesome bingo contract have forced gaming and spread-betting company Playtech to issue a profit warning sending the shares plunging by a fifth.

Management at the Isle of Man-based business, which was founded by billionaire Teddy Sagi, said it expected annual profits to be 5pc lower than the bottom end of market expectations, prompting analysts to wipe about €20m (£17.8m) off their full-year earnings forecasts and sending Playtech shares down 218.5p to 768p.

A key problem for the company is understood to be Malaysia, which is presently an unregulated market and has seen its government move to prevent citizens from accessing online gambling sites and mobile apps.

The country’s leaders are considering changes to its Common Gaming House Act 1953 to plug loopholes which enable citizens to gamble online.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is quoted as saying that the government hasn’t decided on whether the change of the law will be in the form of an amendment or if the parliament will craft a new preventive law that will specifically target online gambling activities.

Analysts at Investec predicted the Malaysia issue was responsible for the bulk of the value of the profit downgrade by the company.

Investec added it thought Malaysia represented 5pc of Playtech’s total revenue, which came in at €709m in 2016.

Elsewhere, its contract with Sun Bingo, which involves Playtech providing the technology for the game, has continued to be problematic.

Earlier this year Playtech chief executive Mor Weizer admitted it had been forced to spend more money than planned to attract customers and that it was a year behind where it wanted to be with the project.

In its update this week, the company said the contract “remains challenging” partly due to the re-launch of the new Sun Bingo site.

The company’s financial division Tradetech, which serves professional traders, has performed as expected.

GVC drops Turkey operations amid merger rumor with Lads Coral

UK-listed online gambling operator GVC Holdings has disposed of its Turkish-facing business, fueling speculations that it will once again attempt to acquire UK rival Ladbrokes Coral Group.

In a regulatory filing, GVC announced that it sold Headlong Limited to Ropso Malta Ltd., a company backed by investors who run the operation’s IT, for €150 million ($174.9 million).

Headlong accounts for 9 percent of GVC’s net gaming revenues. The Turkish-facing company and its associated business had gross assets of €21 million ($24.47 million) as of December 31, 2016 while its estimated earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization totalled €35 million ($40.77 million).

GVC drops Turkey operations amid merger rumor with Lads CoralBoth GVC and Ropso Malta agreed that the payment will be payable on a monthly basis and in a span of five years. They also agreed that transitional service arrangements will take place for no longer than six months following the completion.

With the disposal of Headlong, GVC’s revenue from “grey” markets will fall to around 25 percent.

“The decision to sell Headlong and associated businesses has been taken against a backdrop where, in an increasingly maturing and regulating online gaming world, the Board has concluded it is now appropriate for GVC to further increase its focus on regulated markets,” GVC said in a statement. “In addition, the Board believes that the Disposal will increase the attractiveness of the Group to investors and potential consolidation partners.”

The sale of Headlong, however, has revived rumors that GVC is attempting to acquire Ladbrokes for the third time since last year, according to The Evening Standard.

One of the contentious issues that both GVC and Ladbrokes are reportedly trying to iron out is the former’s businesses in unregulated markets like Turkey. Though profitable, unregulated markets are unstable and subject to sudden clampdowns.

Ladbrokes is basically telling GVC that if the company wants a marriage, then the former has to say bye-bye to unregulated markets.

October 26, 2017

Phil Ivey loses court battle over £7.7m winnings from London casino

The poker player Phil Ivey has lost his court bid to recover £7.7m ( $10.2m) of winnings from a London casino.

The 40-year-old American has been fighting to recover the sum since successfully playing a version of baccarat known as Punto Banco at Crockfords Club in Mayfair in 2012.

The hearing at the supreme court considered whether dishonesty was a necessary element of the offence of cheating.

Ivey had challenged a 2016 majority decision in the court of appeal dismissing his case against Genting Casinos UK, which owns Crockfords. Genting said a technique he used, called edge-sorting, was not a legitimate strategy, while Ivey maintained that he won fairly.

Five justices unanimously upheld the majority decision of the court of appeal, which dismissed his case on the basis that being knowingly dishonest was not a necessary element of “cheating”.

After the game in question, Ivey was told the money would be wired to him in Las Vegas, but it never arrived, although his stake of £1m was returned.

Genting said the technique of edge-sorting used by Ivey, which involves identifying small differences in the pattern on the reverse of playing cards and exploiting that information to increase the chances of winning, was not a legitimate strategy.

Ivey did not personally touch any cards, but persuaded the croupier to rotate the most valuable cards by intimating that he was superstitious.

In the court of appeal, Lady Justice Arden said the Gambling Act 2005 provided that someone may cheat “without dishonesty or intention to deceive: depending on the circumstances it may be enough that he simply interferes with the process of the game”.

There was no doubt, she added, that the actions of Ivey and another gambler, Cheung Yin Sun, interfered with the process by which Crockfords played the game of Punto Banco with Ivey.

Stephen Parkinson, head of criminal litigation at Kingsley Napley, the law firm that represented Crockfords, said: “This is one of the most significant decisions in criminal law in a generation. The concept of dishonesty is central to a whole range of offences, including fraud.

“For 35 years, juries have been told that defendants will only be guilty if the conduct complained of was dishonest by the standards of ordinary, reasonable and honest people, and also that they must have realised that ordinary, honest people would regard their behaviour as dishonest.

“The supreme court has now said that this second limb of the test does not represent the law and that directions based upon it ought no longer to be given by the courts.”