When many people look at Phil Ivey, they see the world's greatest poker player. When an Atlantic City Casino looks at Phil Ivey, they see someone who cheated them out of nearly $10 million. If this was a movie, such a situation could end with deserts, swamps, bad guys and vigilantly justice. In 2014, this situation could end in a federal court. Here's what happened: Recently, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa filed a lawsuit against professional poker star Phil Ivey, accusing him of using the defect of a playing card to improperly maximize his odds in the game of baccarat. The casino believes this vulnerability enabled Ivey to win $9.6 million between April and October 2012. The casino has also sued Gemaco Inc., the company that made the allegedly defective cards. A third person, "Jane Doe" was also sued over how the cards were inspected and delivered to the casino.
What is Baccarat?
Here is how Baccarat works:
The banker (think dealer) gets a hand. The player gets a hand. You want to bet on which hand is closest to nine (face cards and tens are worth zero). You can get on the banker, the player or a tie. If the player knows the first card being dealt, it can greatly alter whether or not to bet on the banker or player.
How does the casino think Ivey cheated?
The lawsuit claims that Ivey made three very specific requests during the games in question: #1) A single set of Gemaco playing cards. #2) A dealer who spoke Mandarin Chinese. And #3) An automatic card shuffler. Ivey also was able to bring a friend with him to play. Because Ivey was playing such a high stakes game, and is one of the world's most famous gamblers, most believe it's not a huge surprise Ivey was granted such special stipulations.
Here's where opinions start to differ. The casino believes Ivey violated New Jersey gaming laws with a tactic known as edge sorting. This is when someone uses those card imperfections to determine which cards are which. If someone can do this, the game changes from the house having an advantage to the player having an advantage. The suit alleges this change went from more than 1% to the house to 6% to Ivey.
The casino lawsuit contends that Ivey knew of the card imperfection and had an advantage prior to playing. Because of Ivey's high roller status, the suit alleges that Ivey and his partner handled cards in a way to try and identify them in this edge sorting trick, using the guise of superstition to hide their true intentions.
What is Ivey saying?
This isn't the first time Ivey and a casino had issues over big winnings. In the New Jersey case, both sides have lawyered up. Ivey did retweet an article that explains why this isn't cheating. Among the highlights:
• The casino used faulty cards.
• The casino didn't have to comply with the laundry list of Ivey requests prior to playing or during the round of play itself.
• Even if Ivey had inside information, there was no guarantee of victory.
Several people in the gaming community agree with this contention and believe the casino is at fault for capitulating to Ivey's demands prior to and during play. Furthermore, even if Ivey had an advantage, it didn't matter because the casino didn't do anything to stop it.
Typically, anything that involves gaming legislation and federal court takes years to settle. Still, there are three fascinating factors that might impact gambling in the future:
• Even if Ivey conspired to cheat the casino, he still played a game of chance. Can he be held liable without a guarantee of victory?
• Maybe we're not in the Poker Boom of 2003, but Ivey is one of the five most well known poker players on the planet. He won nine World Series of Poker bracelets, and some believe Ivey will be considered the greatest of all time before his career ends. How do the allegations impact his legacy?
• There are thousands of people who play stakes as large and larger than Ivey. Will casinos adjust their rules because of this high profile case?
Phil Ivey may be one of the most well-known faces of poker. He may also end up on the wrong end of a multimillion dollar lawsuit. If this were a Hollywood script, it would probably be rejected for being too unrealistic.