Owning Mahowny – A Life Lesson for Gamblers

With more and more possibilities of gambling online, it’s likely that there will be more people out there dealing with gambling problems in the future, but hopefully none of them would go to the lengths that Brian Molony from Canada went to in order to feed his gambling habit.

Molony was working for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce back in the 1980s as an assistant branch manager. He’d been promoted to manage bigger accounts and his trusting boss didn’t realise that he was skimming large amounts of money out of those accounts to fund his gambling habit. This was in the days before the internet, of course, when you had to make a trip to a land-based casino to gamble. Now, when you can play casino games at any time on sites like bet365 you can keep track of your spending as you have to move the money into a gaming account in order to play, so in a way people have less of an excuse to descend into gambling debt. Molony, though, was making weekend trips to Atlantic City to gamble using other people’s money and when he was eventually caught, he had taken more than $10million from his employers in little more than 18 months.

The story of his gambling rise and fall, and the fraudulent means he took to get the money to play with, was made into a film called Owning Mahowny, released in 2003, and starred Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver and John Hurt. In the film, Toronto bank employee Dan Mahowny (Hoffman) is trusted by his boss to handle large account. What he doesn’t realise though, is that Mahowny is taking the bank’s money to gamble at Atlantic City Casinos at the weekend.

So big a spender Mahowny is, in fact, that he gets treated like royalty by Victor Foss, the casino manager – played by John Hurt. Foss charters a private jet for Mahowny’s trips down from Canada to Atlantic City. This actually happened to the real Molony, and he was put up in luxury hotels by the casino, too.

Minnie Driver plays the role of Mahowny’s colleague and girlfriend, who is not aware of his gambling habit. Only when the police start to investigate Mahowny’s bookie (Maury Chaykin) does Mahowny’s fraud become revealed.

The film isn’t really focused on the glamorous world of the casino, or how the fraud is carried out by Mahowny. It’s more about how his life is totally directed and focused  by his need to gamble, and the lengths he’ll go to so that he can continue gaming. We see how it affects both him and the people around him.

For anyone who knows how much self-control they need to have when deciding their betting limits, this is a great reminder of why we should exercise that self-discipline. It’s also a great opportunity to see the now deceased Hoffman in one of his more unusual roles.

As for the real Molony, what happened to him? He was tried and jailed for six years after pleading guilty to fraud. However, he apparently learnt the hard way and has not gambled again. His girlfriend stuck by him and they are now married with three children. It’s a surprisingly normal life for a man who carried out an incredible act of fraud.