Have you ever seen the ‘Yes Man’ film? A guy named Carl Allen wanted to spice up his life so he promised to say ‘Yes’ to anything. It caused small problems, but he got what he wanted – a great time! Well, this year I promised to have a great time too. I am ‘Yes Man’ personified!
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Considering that it has the largest economy in the world, is one of the freest societies in the west and boasts four of the most popular professional domestic sports leagues of any country, the US is surprisingly conservative when it comes to its moral stance and legislation on sports betting.
Leonardo DiCaprio came in flashing “a crooked smile from under his hat”, Tobey Maguire came with his own vegan snacks and Ben Affleck bought in to the game with $50,000. This was considered a relatively modest start at the poker nights organised by Molly Bloom.
A wealthy playboy from Las Vegas arrived with a rucksack containing $250,000 in cash and another had half a million dollars in chips from the Bellagio casino. Rick Salomon, the videographer and husband of Pamela Anderson, bought in with $200,000. Hedge fund managers and Hollywood tycoons lined the table. By the time Affleck arrived, notifying the hostess with a text message that simply read “Here”, there was $2 million on the table.
Ms Bloom — whose career as a ringmaster of secretive high-stakes poker games came to an abrupt halt after she was arrested in New York last year — now promises to reveal all, or nearly all, in a book to be published later this month.
Poker Princess details how she progressed from cocktail waitress to maître d’ and gatekeeper for the most sought-after poker nights in Hollywood. In the week after each game, Ms Bloom would drive around the city, pulling up in the driveways of Beverly Hills mansions to pay winnings and collect debts. In the book the players are referred to only by their first names — Tobey, Ben and Leo — but her descriptions leave little to chance and the actors have been widely identified elsewhere.
In an extract of the book, published in Vanity Fair, she describes visiting Maguire’s home to drop off a cheque, and a shuffling machine the actor apparently insisted she use in all the games.
He told her that he was going “to start charging rent for the Shuffle Master”, she writes. “I looked past him to the expansive foyer of his mansion in the hills. You could see straight through to the ocean. I laughed. Surely he was joking. He couldn’t possibly be serious about charging rent for a machine he insisted that we use, from the guys whose money he was taking every week. But he was as serious as death.”
Maguire, hero of the Spider-Man films, is portrayed by Ms Bloom as a villain of the poker scene. A brilliant player, he had, she writes, been an early participant at games in which famous names such as DiCaprio and Affleck attracted businessmen with plenty of money to lose.
She was making good money too — one night she recalls receiving $50,000 in tips — but believes this began to bother Maguire. One night, after handing her a tip in the form of a $1,000 chip, he demanded she do “something to earn these thousand dollars” and “bark like a seal who wants a fish”.
In the awkward stand-off that ensued, Ms Bloom describes play coming to a halt and the poker men turning to watch Maguire say, “You won’t bark for a thousand dollars? Wowwww . . . you must be really rich”, before striding out.
“After all I had done to accommodate this guy, I was also shocked,” she writes. “I had made sure I ran every detail of every game by him, changed the stakes for him, structured tournaments around him, memorised every ingredient in every vegan dish in town for him.” She adds: “He had won millions and millions of dollars at my table . . . and now he seemed to want to humiliate me.”
There are some big ticket sporting events that we all feel almost compelled to have a bet on. In the UK the Grand National steeplechase is the best example I can think of, but you could put the Breeders’ Cup, The Kentucky Derby, the Soccer World Cup or the Superbowl in there on the same basis. Some things just go with a bet like eggs and bacon – it’s just the way it is.
Of course, that sort of universal event is meat and drink to the bookmakers. With thousands of ill-informed punters spraying their money around on the basis that they like a horse’s name, or the jockey’s colours, all the bookmakers have to do is make sure they’ve got their math right and the money will come rolling in.