Best Gambling Movie: Owning Mahowny

Today we will unpack a successful movie called Owning Mahowny. A curious title which will become clear as to why later. 

Richard Kwietniowski was the director. 

Owning Mahowny is based on the real story of a Toronto banks vice president real name Brian Molony via a book called Stung by Gray Stephen Ross, a precursor to the film. 

Mahowny the main protagonist is played by the curious and talented Philip Seymour Hoffman, a ‘B’ lister or supporting actor to ‘A’ list movies such as Along Came Polly. 

Mahowny has some strange characteristics apart from other gamblers, even addicts like himself. He seems to gamble with increasing impunity without consideration for most things if they should go wrong. He seems terrible at it. Even his bookie cuts him off! If he has a chance to gamble he will. The odds seem to matter not. 

Unlike most addicted gamblers he gets a thrill from ONLY gambling! Not even tempted by women thrust at him by casino owners. He needed more and more money to just keep getting the thrill as of course he didn't always win. He was not interested in spending the money on flash cars or women, no he just loved to gamble and loved the buzz. It is perhaps the more interesting angle and one the movie portrays well. A tunnel vision of a man who knew singularly what he liked and just went for it time and time again. The only thing that owned the man was the thrill hence the title of the film. 

Early on he raises an initially eye watering $10k debt at the tracks. To most that would be the end of a line of credit. The next level sees gamblers sell their possessions and even lose their homes. Then that is truly the end for most. A warning some do not take. But Mahowny had one thing all the rest did not. He had access to large sums of money. 

But how? 

Read on…

Early days 

Mahoney was 1 of 4 children who had a stay at home mum and his father was a Doctor. His father would take him to the racetrack as a boy and spoke of strategies and taught Mahowny. The boy developed his own enthusiasm and that was the start. From the age of 10 he became his class bookie and allowed his friends and peers to place bets with him on events happening in the school. 

University & His Banking Career 

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce took an interest in Mahony's aptitude for banking after he aces a test. He graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a Bachelors in Journalism, but was quickly offered a job with CIBC. He had gone to Uni to study journalism and write on financial matters. From working the basics in banking and acting teller upwards he progressed swiftly. At 26 he was awarded promotion to assistant manager and was able to approve loans and given access to accounts of the bank itself. He had a serious girlfriend at college and seemed very normal otherwise. 

His secret life of gambling 

The film centres on his gambling and the way he went about it. His Girlfriend who enabled him and the impending collapse of it all. It’s like he knows it’s coming yet continues down his path like a driven man. 

He was in part successful and was betting with some serious cash. Examples of the biggest wagers were $75k hands which translated into millions of dollars. He dabbled in sports betting too and the Superbowl was one win of note where he placed a half million dollar bet and won.

Not a flash person or seemingly interested in material objects, anything that got him to the casino faster worked for him and so he started to fly across to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. So the money was getting spent. 

One consistent thing that seems to be through professional gamblers is that at times they get wiped out to zero. But a loan from other gamblers gets some back on the road again. They are mostly with some exceptions up and down. This was no different with Mahowny/Molony. But he worked out that as he was loaning all sorts of people money he could ‘loan’ himself money from his bank. He didn’t see it as theft because he was going to pay it back. And so the embezzlement started. Knowing the weaknesses in his company's organisation allowed him to cover his tracks and use fake companies and legitimate companies to take the money from. 

A notable loss occurred at a craps table in Caesars Atlantic City which was to the tune of 10 Million dollars. 

An arrangement was made between Caesars where Molony was gambling most. They would support him with free flights knowing it would pay them back. They never asked where the money came from. 

The Game is Up 

The bank finally realised that money was going missing and had Brian arrested. They also filed a lawsuit against Caesars because they enabled the situation. Malony pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in jail. He attended many clinics as part of his rehabilitation. He ended up serving just two and a half years. 

Later Life 

From his crazy life he seems to have rehabilitated and now is a successful family man with his wife Lisa (she stuck with him throughout) and three kids. Brian slowly pays his stolen loot back through management consultancy work and speaking in seminars for compulsive gamblers. The family now lives in Pickering, Ontario. 

The Movie 

The main cast of characters in the movie are John Hurt who plays the Atlantic City casino manager, Minnie Driver who plays his girlfriend and Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays Brian.

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