The real ‘Molly’s Game’: Inside Tobey Maguire’s high-stakes underground poker ring
Tobey Maguire wanted to take down Hollywood.
Back in 2005, the “Spider-Man” star collaborated with a card cheat-turned-TV producer named Houston Curtis to create a regular poker game for themselves and their rich pals where as much as a few million bucks could be in play on any night.
The alleged goal, according to Curtis’s new book, “Billion Dollar Hollywood Heist” (Skyhorse Publishing, co-authored with Dylan Howard): for Maguire and Curtis to win as much as possible from their hand-picked suckers.
Until everything crashed down hard, they pulled it off, putting together the biggest game that Hollywood has ever seen. On Tuesday nights from 2005 until 2009, bold-faced names — including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and “The Notebook” director Nick Cassavetes — flocked to The Viper Room or Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel to play.
The stakes were so high, Curtis told The Post, that “winning $20,000 felt like losing.”
If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it inspired the 2018 movie “Molly’s Game,” starring Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, the former Olympic-class skier who was the hostess of the operation — and who later would be arrested on gambling-related charges tied to a game she ran in New York City.
But, Curtis writes, neither the movie nor Bloom’s own memoir tells the true story of the LA game.
Curtis claims Bloom was not the mastermind she purported to be and that she was primarily there to deflect attention so that he and Maguire could win millions without spooking their pals.
“Molly had nothing to do with anything,” Curtis said. “Initially, she just served drinks and we gave her numbers to call the guys.”
“The guys” included billionaires who had everything but fame. Celebrities were brought in to add glamour and, occasionally, serve as collateral damage.
Rich men went home with their pockets light of cash but full of stories. Like the time film producer Rick Salomon — infamous for starring in a sex tape with Paris Hilton — grilled Affleck about Jennifer Lopez, the actor’s former fiancée.
“Did [her] ass have cellulite on it or was it nice?” Salomon asked.
The table was stunned into silence before Affleck replied: “It was nice.”
Curtis met Maguire at a 2004 poker game in Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to Maguire, Curtis had a long career as a sleight-of-hand expert, scamming high-stakes games in LA.
When Maguire invited Curtis to the actor’s Hollywood Hills home for a game — in which players included lawyer Jon Moonves and billionaire scion Kevin Washington — Curtis played it straight and was careful not to win too much.
“Or else I’d never be invited again,” he said. “I dumped chips to guys who played badly and would lose them back.”
Serving as the dealer was Maguire’s then-wife, Jen Meyer. The actor pressed guests to tip Meyer, a successful jewelry designer who is also the daughter of Ron Meyer, a former Hollywood power agent and now the vice-chairman of NBCUniversal.
“He wanted to make her feel included,” said Curtis. “At the end of the night, she could count her profits alongside Tobey — who almost always won.”
But Maguire wasn’t comfortable having players in his house. Worried about germs, he purportedly made them leave their shoes at the door and wear Crocs that he provided.
“Kevin Washington chewed tobacco and spit into a cup; Tobey hated that,” said Curtis. “And, since Tobey was a vegan, it really bothered him when people ordered pepperoni pizzas. He said to me, ‘Dude, I have to get these scumbags out of my house.’ ”
(A representative for Washington had no comment.)
So in 2005, the game moved to The Viper Room, the Sunset Strip nightclub where River Phoenix fatally overdosed in 1993.
Maguire and Curtis arranged things with club co-owner Darin Feinstein.
“He said, ‘I’ll have a poker room set up downstairs and get a hot piece of ass named Molly to serve drinks,’” Curtis said of their introduction to Bloom, then an employee of Feinstein’s.
“Poker was blowing up big and we found young, wealthy guys who wanted to play with Tobey,” said Curtis. “They didn’t even know how to shuffle a deck of cards.”
Maguire quickly enlisted one of his best friends, Leonardo DiCaprio, as a lure.
“Tobey said that he and I would have to stake Leo,” recalled Curtis, meaning they would put up cash for DiCaprio to play, covering his losses but also getting a share of his winnings.
“[DiCaprio] is a guy worth $80 million and he didn’t want to put up the $5,000 buy-in. But Tobey said, ‘Don’t worry. He only plays aces and kings.’ And he did. Leo was tighter than a gnat’s ass.”
One night, Matt Damon came as a guest of his buddy Affleck.
“He lost around $50,000 to me and didn’t have any money [on him],” Curtis recalled. “Affleck wrote the check.”
(Reps for Maguire, Meyer, Affleck, Damon and DiCaprio did not return requests for comment. Bloom had no comment.)
“Joker” director Todd Phillips was a regular.
“But when we went to $200/$400 blinds” — making it a no-limit poker game in which you could easily lose six figures per night — “Todd backed off for a while. Some people just didn’t have the stomach for those stakes.”
Two who did were Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté and hedge-fund manager Brad Ruderman. Curtis said that Ruderman was so inept and so rich that he was considered “a godsend.” Laliberté was also valued.
“The first time I won a quarter-million dollars was Guy’s first night in the game,” said Curtis, adding that the circus impresario invited the poker crew to fly with him to Hawaii.
“One morning, a bunch of guys took him up on it. They beat him for like $2 million [in Hawaii] and he flew them back on his jet.”
He tried making [Bloom] bark like a seal [for $1,000].
– Curtis on Maguire
(Laliberté did not return requests for comment.)
Curtis estimates he won around $15 million during the game’s four years. He, his wife and their two daughters lived in a $3 million LA home. He bought a dream house for his mother, a musical-instrument store for his dad and a dojo for his old karate teacher.
Curtis came to consider Maguire a good friend. He also glimpsed the star’s petty side.
Curtis alleges in the book that Maguire hated seeing Bloom taking home as much as $30,000 in tips per night. He told The Post that the actor “tried making her bark like a seal [for a $1,000 chip]. She wouldn’t do it — but he still gave her a thousand that night. One-thousand dollars was his insult tip.”
But by 2008, Curtis was enduring a trifecta of problems: The value of his $3 million home had dipped by two-thirds, a $4 million TV-distribution deal went south and he had lost $100,000 in Las Vegas. Then he suffered the biggest loss of his gambling career: $1 million in a single, terrible night at The Four Seasons.
That morning, heading home on autopilot, Curtis received a call from Maguire: “He said he wanted to make sure I wasn’t driving off a cliff. I walked into my house, my daughter ran up to me, and I literally broke into tears.”
Despite his earnings, the million-dollar debt was more than he could afford.
Maguire agreed to loan him $600,000. Curtis offered to pay back the principal and then give Maguire 10 percent of his winnings for the next year.
“I thought that was reasonable,” said Curtis. Maguire, who, according to unnamed sources in the book’s introduction, “could have made up to $30 to $40 million from the games” had reportedly earned $36.5 million plus back-end earnings on the “Spider-Man” franchise, thought otherwise. He wanted his principal plus 50 percent of Curtis’s wins and no downside.
“The deal was impossible to overcome,” said Curtis. But with no better option, he agreed to it. He owed $500,000 to Salomon and the same sum to a few other players.
With the deal done, Curtis writes, Maguire joyfully shouted, “I own you now! And I’m gonna make sooo much f–king money this year at poker!”
It didn’t work out that way.
Months later, in April 2009, “godsend” Ruderman got busted for running his hedge fund as a Ponzi scheme. That led to bankruptcy attorneys going after players to recover his ill-gotten gains, and the game imploded.
Bloom was deposed in the bankruptcy case, but nobody was arrested as a result of the LA game since no laws had been broken. (Independently, Bloom was sentenced to a year’s probation, a $200,000 fine and 200 hours of community service for gambling-related infractions in NYC.)
Curtis’s wife moved with their kids to the East Coast. Creditors placed a lien on his home. He went into cardiac arrest during a biopsy. And an unpaid debt at a Las Vegas casino landed him in the LA County jail for a month.
Broken, beaten and abandoned, Curtis received a lifeline of $15,000 from Moonves and found a ride to Illinois, where he went to live with his mother.
“The dream home was sold,” he said. “I moved into her tiny house and a doctor [said] that my heart was functioning at 25 percent. I had five years to live.”
Desperate to turn things around, he lost weight. The heart condition reversed itself. These days, Curtis resides in Phoenix and is penning his next book, about his exploits as a card cheat — and launching a sleight-of-hand website, kardsharp.com. He hasn’t talked to Maguire in about three years.
“I don’t have all my money back,” he said. “But I overcame the worst bad beat you can get and am still in the game.”
Source : Michael Kaplan Link