The Viper Room: The True Story of Molly Bloom’s Illegal Gambling Ring of A-Listers

Molly Bloom is perhaps one of the most recognizable names and faces in the world of poker. The lady who went from a server to becoming the “Poker Princess” running some of United States’ highest stakes poker games alongside celebrities is very familiar to fans, especially those who watched Molly’s Game.

Molly Bloom smiling in front of a dark background
Molly Bloom | Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The poker games took place in one of West Hollywood’s hottest clubs owned by actor Johnny Depp, The Viper Room. Here is the true story of Bloom’s illegal gambling ring of A-listers.

The Viper Room’s significance can’t be understated

When Depp launched The Viper Room in 1993, it instantly became one of the hottest clubs on the Sunset Strip. According to Visit West Hollywood, the building dates back to the ’20 and is one of the oldest on The Strip. However, it didn’t initially start as a club but as a small grocery store serving the residents of a small industrial village called Sherman.

By the ’40s, however, The Strip, which went by Sunset Boulevard at the time, transformed from a commuter route to a place where several celebrities could have a good time and the grocery store shut down to make room for a club.

The building changed ownership over time as it got renamed from The Greenwich Village Inn to The Rue Angel, to a strip club called the Last Call and ultimately landing on Depp’s hands, who renamed it The Viper Room. Depp partnered with actor Sal Junco to open the club in 1993, and several A-List musicians sang in the club.

It became a magnet for both up-and-coming artists such as The Pussycat Dolls and established ones like Johnny Cash. The club also had several listers who frequented the joint, including Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto, Drew Barrymore, and Lisa Marie Presley, to mention a few. Depp retained part ownership of the club until 2004 when he relinquished it.

Bloom ran an illegal gambling ring in The Viper Room

As highlighted in the movie Molly’s Game, Bloom was a professional skier but never made it to the Olympics due to an injury. Bloom found herself in the world of high-stakes poker after working as a cocktail waitress while taking a year off school. She also worked as an executive assistant to Darin Feinstein, a real estate entrepreneur who asked her to help run a poker game.

The business lady said she went home and began doing Google searches on what poker players liked listening to and made a “mix CD with ‘The Gambler’ on it and other really cliched songs.” She also wore her “cutest outfit” and had a cheese plate. After walking into the room, Bloom said that she saw an opportunity to do more.

Bloom wrote in her memoir with the same name as the movie that she got up to $3,000 in tips, and the money inspired her to get into the world of underground poker fully. Over the years, several names of the players and watchers of the illegal gambling game got released, and some of them even made it into the 2017 movie.

The most prolific A-listers who participated in Bloom’s illegal gambling include Spider-Man actor Tobey Maguire who many speculate to have been the infamous Player X mentioned in the movie. Other celebrities linked to the activities include Leonardo DiCaprio, Alex Rodriquez, Rick Salomon, and Ben Affleck.

What other crazy things happened at The Viper Room?

The illegal gambling ring wasn’t the only crazy thing that happened at the club during Depp’s ownership. One of the most famous events included actor Joaquin Phoenix’s brother River Phoenix’s death from an overdose in 1993.

Another incident involved Australian actor and singer Jason Donovan who suffered a drug-induced seizure in 1995 at the club. Fortunately, he survived. In 1997, Michael Hutchence appeared at The Viper Room and played his last performance before he died by suicide a week later.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.

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