Borgata Wants Card Company To Pay For Phil Ivey Baccarat Debacle

pile of playing cards
In 2012, poker superstar Phil Ivey and his partner, Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun, played Baccarat at Borgata Hotel and Casino and won $9.6 million. Now, Borgata is suing the card manufacturer whose cards permitted the win to occur.

Ivey and Sun won using a strategy known as edge-sorting. Edge-sorting involves recognizing and exploiting the tiny imperfections on card backs that result from the manufacturing process.

Now, Borgata has asked a judge to order Gemaco, the manufacturer of the offending cards, to pay back the money that Ivey and Sun took. The casino is claiming that Gemaco knew about the issue prior to selling the cards to Borgata.

There is no denying that the cards in question had these imperfections, and those imperfections, in part, allowed Ivey and Sun to find such success. However, proving that Gemaco had knowledge of the defect prior to the sale and acted fraudulently will be a tough thing to do.

Ivey only won with Borgata’s help

The bigger questions raised by this affair (and a similar one in a London casino) are more compelling. The win only occurred after Borgata granted a series of requests made by Ivey and his partner.

The four requests were as follows:

  • Play Mini-baccarat instead of Baccarat
  • A Cantonese-speaking dealer
  • Cards sorted in a specific fashion
  • Same deck of cards the entire time

Each of these requests had a specific motivation. The switch to Mini-baccarat meant that neither Ivey nor Sun would ever touch the cards, removing any chance of cheating.

The Cantonese dealer was a concession to Sun’s native tongue, but also placed a person familiar with Asian superstition in charge of the cards. This move was important because it made the next two requests seem innocent.

Borgata should have known something was wrong

The last two requests should’ve been the telltale signs that Ivey and Sun were not there simply to gamble. However, Borgata granted all four requests. In fact, at no time did Borgata step in to make any changes.

One of the simplest methods to defeat suspected cheating or “advantage play,” which is what Sun and Ivey were doing, is to switch card decks. Most casinos do this on a scheduled basis, just to be sure.

Ivey and Sun never manipulated the game or the deck. They simply made requests.

Borgata was a willing party, and would have kept any money lost. So, it’s a hard thing to claim impropriety after Ivey and Sun won.

However, Borgata has sued Ivey to return the money. So far, both sides have found gains in the courtroom – a federal judge has ruled that Ivey did not commit fraud, but that he likely violated state rules on what constitutes a fair game.

In the meantime, though, the actions surrounding Ivey are on hold until the resolution of the Gemaco suit. Keep an eye on this one, because the outcome will be quite telling about the responsibility and expectation that casinos have when they offer games of chance.

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Bart Shirley

About

Bart Shirley is a writer and poker player from Houston, Texas. He has a master’s degree in business administration from Texas Christian University and a degree in English from Texas A&M. In his spare time, Bart teaches math and business at Memorial High School in Houston.

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