Over the weekend, I read several articles that described how Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa is suing Phil Ivey for $9.6M. The casino alleges that Phil Ivey, with the help of his associate, Cheng Yin Sun, won more than $9,500,000 playing Baccarat employing a technique called, “edge sorting,” something that’s only possible when the backs of the cards in a deck do not match exactly and an automated device is used to shuffle the cards.
The suit against Ivey also names Yin Sun and Gemaco, Inc., the manufacturer that made the cards used when Ivey played Baccarat at Borgata on several occasions in 2012. While it seems to me that Borgata has a definite case against Gemaco for printing defective cards, the case against Ivey does not seem to be nearly as clear cut…largely because I don’t think one exists.
Before arriving at Borgata, Ivey presumably made certain arrangements. Ivey agreed to make a $1M deposit and to play up to, but not more than $50,000 per hand. The casino and Ivey also agreed that he would be able to play Baccarat in a private pit and that the cards used in the game would be shuffled via an automated shuffling machine. Finally, the dealer who handled the cards was to be fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
During his first two visits, Ivey played Baccarat in accordance with the stipulations he and Borgata had agreed to and won more than $7M. Before his third session, Borgata representatives challenged Ivey with news reports that suggested he’d used edge sorting at a London-based casino earlier in the year when he won approximately $12M in just one sitting playing Baccarat.
So, even when Borgata representatives became suspicious in October, 2012, that Ivey and his associate were “cheating” the house, they still let him play in accordance with the arrangements the casino and Ivey had agreed upon months before; the casino alleges Yin Sun spoke Mandarin to give instructions to the dealer to lay cards in a certain way so that the defectively printed cards would be visible to her counterpart.
Phil Ivey did not walk into the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa insisting that cards he brought into the establishment be used at his table. Instead, Borgata determined which cards were going to be used at all of its card tables, including the one at which Ivey played. Ivey also didn’t have an invisible pen or some other device that he used to mark any card in the deck. Finally, he was under no obligation to report anything that gives any gambler, including himself, an advantage in any game in any casino.
If Ivey was doing something that aroused suspicion, the dealer at his table is the person who was responsible for reporting Ivey’s activities to Borgata’s management. If Borgata’s staff believed the reports about what had supposedly happened in London, it was their responsibility to inform Ivey that he was no longer allowed to play Baccarat or any other game in their establishment until they had all the facts and could determine if he won legitimately playing Baccarat or not.
It seems to me that Ivey is a target of sorts. Because he’s easily recognizable and has gotten media attention for winning large sums of money in games other than poker in addition to poker tournaments and cash games, Ivey is hard to miss when he walks through a given casino’s doors. Since Crockfords Casino had already filed a suit against Ivey because he had won an exorbitant amount of money presumably as a result of edge sorting while playing Baccarat, it was probably an easy decision for Borgata to file a suit, too, since a favorable decision in the first suit might make it easier for Borgata to win its own case against Ivey.
At the end of the day, Borgata has no one to thank but itself for Ivey’s winnings. It’s highly unlikely that the deck used at Ivey’s first table was the first one taken out of Gemaco’s first shipment of cards to Borgata, after all. It’s equally unlikely that the same deck was reserved for Ivey to play with during his two subsequent visits to the casino. My point is that Borgata had ample time to recognize that there was a problem with the cards printed by Gemaco and take corrective, money-saving steps.
Any gambler, professional, amateur or somewhere in between, has every right to try to increase his/her chances of winning through legal means. Recognizing that a casino has not protected itself against financial loss by making sure the tools used at its various tables are up to its standards and using that fact to increase one’s own winnings, is not cheating. Instead, it is simply taking advantage of a situation the casino itself enabled to evolve by, in Ivey’s case, not examining the cards used at the man’s Baccarat table.
I wonder if someone like me had won $9.6M at Borgata given the same circumstances if I’d end up being sued or if my winnings would be celebrated in the media and the casino itself. Having gambled in Atlantic City before, I firmly believe my winnings would have been heralded as a means of luring other people to play Baccarat. I mean, if someone as average as I am could win $9.6M, I wouldn’t blame Borgata for using my experience to try to convince others that they could do the same and banking every cent they would lose to the house. Borgata has no obligation to protect gamblers from themselves and should not have to return the money it collects from them because the casino took advantage of their inexperience, poor skills and/or bad luck.
In turn, gamblers should not have to return their winnings simply because a casino did not examine its own tools of the trade. Ivey had no obligation to protect Borgata from loss, but he, like the rest of us, had and retains every right to try to maximize his winnings through ethical means in any casino playing any game. Borgata set itself up for failure by not examining the cards Gemaco produced and Ivey was simply able to capitalize on that.
If my stepson behaved in the poor sportsman-like way that the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa is, he would either be put in a timeout or to bed depending on the time of day. With that in mind, it might be time for Borgata’s lawyers to take a nap so they can awake with a refreshed, reasonable outlook on what happened.
Frivolous lawsuits are filed all the time and they cost each of us money in some way. With the fact that so much destruction from Hurricane Sandy is still visible in the state I grew up in, I hope Borgata chooses to spend the money it would have spent on a lost cause to help rebuild the areas surrounding Atlantic City. By helping people to get back on their feet and re-establish their homes and businesses, it seems Borgata will have a much better chance of recouping its losses by re-seeding its local pool of gamblers instead of by suing a world-renowned, widely respected card player who didn’t do anything wrong.
While I’ve never used an expletive in anything I’ve written for Flop Turn River before today, I feel that a Tweet credited to the man I think will always have the most long-lasting legacy in the poker community, Doyle Brunson, sums this whole thing up perfectly – Borgata’s case is “bull shit.”
PLEASE NOTE: My opinions are mine and mine alone, meaning they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer, Flop Turn River, or any of the company’s contributors, affiliates or associates.