Atlantic City-based Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is suing one of the world's most famous poker players for allegedly cheating them out of almost $10m worth of winnings.
The casino filed a lawsuit on 9 April against nine-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Ivey, claiming he used a technique known as 'edge sorting’ to give himself a 6.765% advantage over the house. Also named in the lawsuit is Cheng Yin Sun, Ivey's partner in the baccarat games in question, and card manufacturer Gemaco. The charges listed are conspiracy, unjust enrichment, conversion, fraud racketeering and breach of contract.
Ivey is currently implicated in a second, ongoing 'edge-sorting' dispute with Crockfords Casino in London after they withheld around $12m (£7.8m) worth of his winnings in 2012. Similarly, the Golden Nugget Casino has filed a suit against Gemaco claiming that defects in their cards lost them $1.5m.
'Edge-sorting' is a technique that "exploits manufacturing defects in the cards in order to 'mark' cards without the player actually touching, defacing or placing physical marks on the cards" the Borgata lawsuit said. The Gemaco playing cards were supposed to feature circles designed like the tops of cut diamonds, but according to the lawsuit these were unsymmetrical, allowing Ivey to figure out which card was being dealt first.
Ivey first contacted Borgata in 2012 to organise a series of four high-stakes games of baccarat. The lawsuit said that his "notoriety" and the amount of money he intended to gamble meant Borgata allowed him to negotiate special arrangements.
He requested a private pit, a dealer who spoke Mandarin, an eight-deck shore of purple Gemaco Borgata playing cards to be used in each session and an automatic card shuffling device. Ivey and his companion are also said to have asked the dealer to flip the cards in particular ways.
The lawsuit states that Ivey said he made these requests because he's superstitious, which Borgata claim is a misrepresentation of his motive. It said: "Ivey's true motive, intention and purpose in negotiating these playing arrangements was to create a situation in which he could surreptitiously manipulate what he knew to be a defect in the playing cards.”
In the Crockford case Ivey has sued to get his money back, admitting that he did recognise the defects in the cards but asserting that it was the house that allowed the opportunity to arise and continue to be exploited. He objected to calling this cheating, and noted that he is an advantage player who does everything that is legally possible to gain an edge over the house.
This is an opinion shared by some in the poker community. Aaron Todd from gaming portal CasinoCity.com said: "The Borgata agreed to Ivey's terms. The casino is always in charge; they run the game. If it decides to run the game in such a way that a sharp player is able to take advantage, that's its own fault."
Todd also noted that while the odds Ivey gained were a "great deal" for a player, they were no guarantee that he would win.
Ivey is now at risk of other casinos going back over his past games with them and potentially filing their own lawsuits.
But it would be unwise for them to follow Borgata's lead completely, because their lawsuit has been deemed incomplete by US District Court Judge Noel Hillman. Borgata have ten days to revise it, or it will be dismissed for a "lack of subject matter jurisdiction".
One piece of information considered incomplete is the citizenship status of Ivey, who is described in the lawsuit as a US citizen currently residing in Mexico. Judge Hillman requests that Borgata allege the particular state in which Ivey is a citizen.
Borgata has until 24 April to complete the lawsuit in order for it to be considered, after which a judge will decide whether Ivey's tactics should be deemed illegal.