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July 30, 2014

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Poker Princess gets probation after guilty plea

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AP Photo/Lawrence Neumeister

Molly Bloom leaves federal court after receiving probation for a guilty plea, Friday, May 2, 2014 in New York.

NEW YORK — A woman dubbed the "poker princess" for her role hosting card games for the rich and famous learned Friday that prison isn't in the cards.

A Manhattan federal judge said prison would be too harsh a punishment for 36-year-old Molly Bloom because she had a minor role in a betting operation with links to Russian-American organized crime enterprises.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman sentenced her to a year of probation, fined her $1,000 and ordered her to perform 200 hours of community service, but only after questioning her about her book, "Molly's Game," being published next month. Furman said he wanted to make sure what she had written would not conflict with the contrition she expressed. He asked if there was anything in it that "would trouble me." She said there was not.

A promotion for the book on the HarperCollins website boasted it would reveal how a "petite brunette from Loveland, Colo., ran the highest stakes, most exclusive poker game Hollywood had ever seen — she was its mistress, its lion tamer, its agent, and its oxygen. Everyone wanted in, few were invited to play."

The publisher promised to take readers inside the poker games she ran in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas "until it all came crashing down around her."

Press reports have linked actors including Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck to Bloom's games. Both have declined to comment.

Before she was sentenced, a composed Bloom acknowledged she had "made mistakes" but the experience and the criminal case has also "been a great opportunity for growth."

She said that since 2011, she had returned to "a life that has meaning and substance."

Her attorney, Jim Walden, had urged leniency, saying Bloom had conducted games legally by only accepting tips until a co-host insisted that they begin taking a cut of the pot or a fee known as a "rake," which lasted only a few months before she was forced from the games. He said she had lost all of the $1 million that the government said she made through the games. She now earns $19 an hour working at a friend's business, he said.

The poker games in New York were discovered by U.S. authorities following a trans-Atlantic money trail. They said players included professional athletes, Hollywood luminaries and business executives, some of whom ran up debts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they gave no names.

Bloom was among more than 30 people charged last year in connection with the wide-ranging betting operation that laundered at least $100 million.

Among those charged was wealthy Manhattan art scion Hillel "Helly" Nahmad, who was sentenced earlier this week to a year and day in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges he helped run an illegal sports betting business.

Nahmad comes from an art-dealing clan whose collection includes 300 Picassos worth $900 million, according to Forbes. He also is known for socializing with Hollywood glitterati like DiCaprio.

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