Suits involving the poker legend Phil Ivey have certainly created quite an interest in the media and with fans alike. There are naturally those defending Ivey, claiming that he would never cheat, and those who claim that they are not surprised to hear these allegations because gambling is a shady business. These are all opinions of more or less informed individuals, but what is the real truth? There isn't too much information out there as all parties involved are staying away from commenting as much as possible, but we'll bring what little is known and is floating around.
What Did Ivey Do Exactly?
First of all, in the suits involving both Borgata and Crockfords, it appears that Ivey took advantage of the very same thing – a design flaw in the playing cards used to offer the games (Baccarat and Punto Blanco, respectively). These flaws were created during the manufacturing process of the cards and Ivey and his female companion were apparently quite capable in recognizing these flaws to gain an upper hand in the games in which the casino per default has a mathematical advantage. This particular design flaw enabled players to recognize the value of certain cards, meaning they knew when it was more favorable to bet bigger.
Exact details of what came to pass were kept silent for a while, but they were eventually revealed and Ivey himself admitted to so-called edge sorting in his lawsuit against Crockfords.
Ivey admitted to being able to exploit flaws in the cards that allowed him to detect the value of certain cards, but claims he did nothing wrong and the casino should pay him his winnings. The casino disagrees and contends that Ivey “operated a scam”. Pokerfuse
Crockfords' refusal to pay Ivey led to rising suspicion at the Borgata casino, another one of Ivey's frequent destinations. But since they already paid what Ivey won, they could no longer withhold his winnings so, instead, they have filed their own suit, requesting reimbursement to the tune of $9.6 million.
How (on Earth) Did it Come to Pass?
One does not have to be a security expert to know that casinos take their money very seriously. People have been trying (and still do) to cheat casinos for much smaller amounts and usually end up being caught before ever approaching such astronomical amounts. So how did it happen that Ivey and his companion were able to perform what both casinos are now alleging to be the scam?
In the event of Crockfords, the first thing that had to happen was for the casino managers to allow these imperfect cards to hit the tables. For a casino handling such significant amounts of money, this seems to be really hard to understand (almost bizarre).
Yet, these imperfections are not that obvious and more was needed for Ivey and his female companion to be able to take advantage of them. Claiming superstition, they would ask a dealer to rotate cards of interest 180 degrees and return them into the shoe turned that way. Hence, when these cards made their appearance again, they would be able to spot them easily and make their bets accordingly.
The key cards he was looking out for were nines and eights, and possibly sevens and sixes. When these cards appeared, his companion asked for them to be rotated 180 degrees, pretending that Mr. Ivey was superstitious. Daily Mail
Apparently high-stakes gamblers have some very weird superstitions and casinos are usually happy to oblige them to keep them in the game. It is still bizarre that none of the present staff, both on the floor and in the surveillance room, had even the slightest suspicion that something was out of order.
This is probably why Borgata was also very accommodating when Ivey asked to play specifically with Gemaco cards (a company which is now also part of the casino’s suit for negligence) and that an automatic shuffling machine be used and the dealer was not to shuffle the cards. The automatic shuffler ensured that the favorable cards would not be turned again in the shuffling process.
The reason for Gemaco cards is quite clear – this is the company that produced the decks for his sessions at Crockfords when they first noticed the pattern inconsistencies on the backs of the cards.
What Does the Law Say?
When everything was said and done, Crockfords decided to withhold Ivey’s winnings in the amount of nearly £7 million, while Borgata is requesting more than $9.5 million to be reimbursed. From a legal standpoint, this is certainly a very interesting case.
In the first event, Crockfords is refusing to pay out because they claim that what Ivey and his partner did is effectively cheating. Ivey, on the other hand, maintains that the casino knew perfectly well how edge sorting works and they did nothing to prevent it. Crockfords further claims what Ivey did ‘defeated the essential premise of the game.’ This claim is similar to the one found in Borgata’s suit.
This is where we are, once again, we are met with the bizarre in this case. What is the essential premise of the game? I’d lay decent odds that for many people playing the game, the essential premise is winning. From a casino’s standpoint it is the same – both games inheritably give a small mathematical edge to the house, but it is hard to see anyone sitting down at the table thinking, ‘ok, let’s lose some money to these good folks.’
Looking strictly at the law, there is no clear precedent here. This certainly does not belong in the category of out-right cheating since Ivey and his companion effectively did nothing to alter the game-play conditions. However, since in the Borgata case Ivey allegedly requested the very specific type of deck that he knew would provide him an edge, these two cases might end up rolling out a bit differently. Even still, this request was fulfilled without any questioning.
The request to rotate the cards and keep the same shoe for the entire duration of play (in Crockfords situation) is clearly looking for an edge (to which Ivey admitted), but the casino willingly accommodated the requests and it was their deck of cards, after all. It’s not like Ivey slipped a rogue deck of cards into the shoe.
Another member of the elite poker circles, Daniel Negreanu, was very adamant in his tweets about the Borgata case, giving full support to his fellow player and friend. One of his tweets stated:
Borgata, you thought Ivey was stupid and you tried to bury him. He hustled you, smoked you, and left you feeling silly. Stand responsible!
To further their claim, Borgata now apparently insists that Ivey and his partner Sun were using a cheating device. This would, of course, shift the odds in their favor significantly, but it might not stand up in court as the claimed cheating device is the casino’s own card shuffler.
The entire case is simply filled with the bizarre, like the Borgata’s invocation of ‘unjust enrichment’ law, just to mention another one. It will certainly be very interesting to see how all of this plays out. Ivey will not fold, but it is unlikely that the casinos will either, so we will probably see the epilogue in some form of verdict(s). The world of poker (and other) media will be keeping an eye on this one for sure and we’ll bring you any new updates on both cases as things slowly move to a resolution.