In 2014, Phil Ivey lost his High Court case against the owners of London's Crockfords Club, who claimed the 10-time winner of the World Series of Poker tournament had cheated them out of £7.7m in a version of baccarat known as Punto Banco in August 2012. Subsequently, his winnings were withheld. Today the court announced that Ivey had lost his appeal against the previous ruling, leaving a number of people questioning the clarity of the law on this matter.
In the 2014 trial, Genting Casinos – owners of the Mayfair Casino –claimed that Ivey had used a technique known as ''edge-sorting'', which aims to provide the player with a degree of ''first card advantage''. The company claimed this was an illegitimate strategy and they had no legal responsibility to hand over the £7.7m Ivey allegedly won.
The High Court ultimately found him guilty of cheating: “He gave himself an advantage which the game precludes,” Judge John Mitting stated upon the verdict, “This is in my view cheating.”
However, Ivey appealed the High Court’s decision at the Court of Appeal, asking the court to consider the definition of cheating, and questioning oxymoronic nature of the High Court’s findings that ‘Mr. Ivey was honest; but that looking at the matter objectively, he had cheated.’
Today, Ivey’s appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, much to the relief of Genting UK President and COO Paul Willcock: “We are obviously very happy with the decision, which vindicates the steps that Crockfords has taken in this matter.
“The trial judge held that Mr Ivey’s behaviour amounted to cheating in October 2014 and the Court of Appeal has now reached the same conclusion. Crockfords has acted fairly and honestly at all times and we are therefore pleased that the Court of Appeal has held that the decision not to pay out to Mr Ivey was the correct one.”
Lady Justice Arden stated that: “Mr Ivey achieved his winnings through manipulating Crockfords’ facilities for the game without Crockfords’ knowledge. His actions cannot be justified on the basis that he was an advantage player.”
She further added that: “I do not consider that dishonesty is a necessary ingredient of the criminal offence of cheating”.
Phil Ivey said: "This decision makes no sense to me. The trial judge said that I was not dishonest and the three appeal judges agreed but somehow the decision has gone against me. Can someone tell me how you can have honest cheating? I'd like to add that I am very grateful to Lady Justice Sharp who decided that the trial judge was "wrong" to decide that I had cheated. The public should read her judgment. It makes perfect sense.”
Indeed, Lady Juctice Sharp admitted that she disagreed with Lady Justice Arden’ final verdict, stating that the law in this case is very much open to interpretation: “There is a dearth of authority on the meaning of ‘cheat’ in relation to gaming contracts in the civil context”.
Lady Justice Sharp expressed her belief that “dishonesty is an essential ingredient of the criminal offence of cheating”, and further stated: “I find the suggestion that someone can be guilty of the criminal offence (in effect) of ‘honest cheating’ at gambling to be a startling one which is not mandated by the language of the statute itself”.
This demonstrates that the definition of “cheat” in relation to The Gambling Act 2005 – which Lady Justice Sharp asserts is “a modern statute”, and thus overrides judgements made on “older cases” – still remains unclear.
Mr Ivey's lawyer, Matthew Dowd of Archerfield Partners LLP, strongly agrees that the insinuations of the stature need further clarification: “The Court of Appeal’s decision leaves the law totally unclear as to what constitutes cheating at gambling. Four judges have looked at this issue now and none of them have been able to agree on the correct interpretation of section 42 of the Gambling Act. It essential that the law is clarified and in light of today's decision we are seeking permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.”
Causing some controversy in the court, the final decision remains that Ivey will not be entitled to the £7.7m. However, this case has highlighted the inconsistency and ambiguity in UK gambling laws which address cheating and gamesmanship. Perhaps these laws need to be re-addressed to provide clarification, which will no doubt aid the Court of Appeals in similar future cases.