A federal judge determined on Friday that Phil Ivey winning $9.6 million by playing baccarat at Atlantic City’s Borgata Casino was the result of fraud and violation of the New Jersey gambling regulations.
The Borgata filed a lawsuit against the famous poker pro and his companion player Cheng Yin Sun back in 2014. The gambling venue argued that the two had used a highly questionable playing technique – edge sorting – to win almost $10 million over four baccarat sessions played there in 2012.
U.S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman ruled on Friday in favor of the Atlantic City casino, claiming that Ivey and Sun may have not violated the general baccarat rules, but they have certainly breached the New Jersey Casino Control Act.
Back in 2012, Ivey reportedly paid $1 million to Borgata Casino to have a private playing area, an automatic card shuffle, purple Gemaco cards, and Mandarin-speaking dealers arranged for him and his companion player. It is not an unusual practice for land-based casinos to make such arrangements for high roller customers, given the amounts of money they usually spend.
The Borgata claimed that Ivey and Sun breached state laws by exploiting a manufacturing defect on the back of the playing cards they had opted for. The backs of the purple Gemaco cards have rows of white circles that look like cut diamonds’ tops. However, it seems that sometimes there are only half- or even quarter-circles at their edges. This makes it possible for players to sort the winning cards from the losing ones and thus gain advantage over the casino. The edge sorting technique is prohibited at Atlantic City gambling venues.
During the four controversial baccarat sessions, Sun reportedly instructed dealers to arrange cards in a manner that would make it easier for her and Ivey to notice the differences on their backs and thus sort the good ones from the bad ones. As a result, the two players won $9.6 million.
Judge Hillman ruled that their actions were fraud and violated the state Casino Control Act and gave the Borgata 20 days to provide a summary of the damages it had suffered. Ivey and Sun will then have 20 days to respond to the plaintiff’s outline.
Despite the casino’s claims that the edge sorting technique violated casino regulations, Ivey has persistently maintained throughout the case’s course that his win was not the result of cheating but of good observation skills.
Judge Hillman wrote in Friday’s ruling that Ivey and Sun viewed their actions as ones “akin to cunning, but not rule-breaking” and as maneuvers used in many other games so as for players to gain certain advantage.
Ivey has been involved in another similar court case over the past several years. The ten-time WSOP gold bracelet winner sued Crockfords Casino in London for improperly withholding the amount of £7.8 million he won by playing punto banco, a baccarat variant, at the said gambling venue. The player used that same technique while playing at the popular London-based casino. However, the court ruled against him in that case, too. Ivey was allowed to appeal the decision and his appeal case began in April 2016.