In the realm of poker, there are few names in the game that are bigger than Phil Ivey. Ivey has won 10 bracelets from the World Series of Poker, one title from the World Poker Tour, and has been in on nine final tables in the WPT. His nickname is “The Tiger Woods of Poker”. That’s how high in esteem Ivey is held. But he has some recent legal troubles that show that Ivey probably should have stuck with poker.
Ivey and a friend won almost $10 million from a casino in Atlantic City playing baccarat, but it turns out that they might have bent – not broken – the rules and could have to return the winnings. Noel Hillman, a District Court Judge, ruled that the two didn’t follow the rules over four trips to the Borgata in 2012.
Ivey and Sun would tell the dealers how to arrange the cards, which is allowed in baccarat (called edge sorting). However, Sun picked up on the fact that the cards used at this casino were defective. Players are allowed to get the dealer to arrange the cards in some type of way, but the problem is – according to Judge Hillman – that because of the defects and because these players had essentially studied them to the point where they knew which card was coming, they used that to their advantage to benefit them and make money.
Ivey said that he just noticed things that you could have noticed if you were a good baccarat player – not necessarily a pro – and he made his bets based on that. However, Judge Hillman is not buying his explanation. Clearly, it would take some practice, effort and memorization to match the defects to the cards.
Ivey and Sun were rolling right through their bets at an average of $89,000 per hand and ended up collecting $4.8 million from the house in a span of 17 hours. That’s when the house realized that something must be wrong, and after doing some research realized that a London casino withheld $12.4 million in baccarat winnings from Ivey in 2012.
From Ivey and Sun’s perspective, they feel like the casino or card manufacturer is responsible for producing cards within the industry standard. It’s up to them to make the cards, check the cards and ensure that they are legal before they put them on the table. Once the decks are in play, it shouldn’t be Ivey’s responsibility. In some ways, he does have a point, but it is clear that he and Sun spent time with those exact cards learning them inside out. They didn’t just happen to sit down at a table and figure out the rotation by trial and error.
What’s interesting in this case is that Judge Hillman stated that what the players did was not fraudulent. That’s important because fraud brings this case into the realm of criminal activity. However, it was ruled that the duo were in breach of the Casino Control Act. That means their worst-case scenario is paying back the $9.6 million, but no jail time. We’ll see if it comes to that as the case is ongoing.