[toc]2016 is a year Phil Ivey will probably want to forget.
Not only did Ivey do very little on the poker front in 2016 (at least by his lofty standards), he also had a $20 million downswing in 2016 that had nothing to do with poker.
The surefire Poker Hall of Famer (Ivey will be eligible for the first time in 2017, so at least he’s got that going for him) thought he had found a way to beat the house when he devised an elaborate scheme that used a subtle flaw on the back of certain playing cards to book eight-figure baccarat wins at two casinos, Crockfords in London and Borgata in Atlantic City.
But the scheme didn’t stay hidden for long, and when it came to light, all hell broke loose.
Even though the two cases centered on the same scheme, the cases diverged quite a bit, as one casino paid out Ivey’s winnings while the other withheld the money. That meant in London, Ivey was the plaintiff, and in New Jersey, he was the defendant.
The Crockfords case
The story begins with Ivey and his accomplice, Cheung Yin Sun, taking Crockfords (owned by Genting Casinos) for more than $11 million back in 2012. But before Ivey could turn chips into cash, the casino sensed something was amiss and decided to withhold Ivey’s winnings.
Once it was discovered that Ivey and Sun were edge sorting, the casino refused to pay, which led to Ivey suing the casino.
The Borgata case
During the same period of time, Ivey and Sun were also executing the same plan across the ocean at Borgata in Atlantic City. Over the course of four sessions in 2012 the duo won more than $10 million using the same tactic at Borgata’s baccarat tables.
The Borgata incident was somewhat different, in that Ivey and Sun played multiple sessions and the NJ casino settled up each time. So, unlike in London, it was Borgata that sued Ivey in an attempt to recoup the money he had won during those sessions.
Ivey never denied using the tactic, or refuted any of the claims made by the casinos about the stipulations he requested. Nor did he lie about the motives behind them; Ivey had said the turning of the cards was based in superstition.
Instead, Ivey’s defense was that edge sorting was perfectly legal, a defense he continued to maintain even after he lost his case in London.
“As I said at the time of the London verdict in October 2014, it is not in my nature to cheat,” Ivey said in a statement after his appeal request was granted. “[This] is why I was so bitterly disappointed by the judge’s decision, even though he said that I was a truthful witness and that he was sure that I didn’t believe that what I was doing was cheating.”
Ivey lost his lawsuit against Crockfords in the appeal earlier this year, which means Crockfords will get to keep the $11 million Ivey won during his baccarat session.
In New Jersey, Borgata won its case against Ivey, and he is now required to pay back the $10 million he won from the casino. Ivey will almost certainly exhaust all of his options to appeal the ruling, so it may be a while before he has to pay up.
Poker world reaction
Most people in poker who have commented on the ruling find it absurd and feel the casinos are to blame for not adequately protecting themselves and acquiescing to Ivey’s bizarre requests that allowed him to carry out the plot.
But the rationale behind the rulings is easy to see if you take a look at New Jersey’s casino laws and regulations.
In Judge Noel Hillman’s ruling, he wrote that what Ivey and Sun did was not in compliance with the state’s Casino Control Act:
“Borgata’s contract-based claims are premised on the contention that when Ivey and Sun played Baccarat at Borgata, Borgata agreed to fulfill its obligations to provide a gaming experience in compliance with the New Jersey Casino Control Act (“CCA”), N.J.S.A. 5:12-1, et seq. (“CCA”), and Ivey and Sun agreed to play the game in compliance with the CCA.
Because Borgata complied with the CCA, while Ivey and Sun did not, Ivey and Sun breached their agreement with Borgata.”
Also of note, in 2015, Ivey’s accomplice lost a separate edge sorting lawsuit she filed against Foxwoods Casino, and based on my research, no edge sorting lawsuit has ever gone against the casino.
Basically, in a regulated environment, the regulations not only protect players from impropriety on the part of the casino, they also protect the casinos from patrons.