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HOME > NEWS > Poker News > Poker pro Phil Ivey loses $10 million case in UK Supreme Court

Poker pro Phil Ivey loses $10 million case in UK Supreme Court

26 October 2017

By Gary Trask

The highest court in the U.K. has ruled that Phil Ivey is a cheater.

Ivey, of course, and many others are outraged by the decision, which was handed down on Wednesday by the U.K.’s Supreme Court. After losing his High Court appeal last year, Ivey got another day in court this week after being granted permission by the Supreme Court to appeal the order made in November 2016. The Supreme Court is the U.K.'s highest court of appeal for civil cases and only hears cases that "raise issues of general public importance."

But any hopes Ivey had of collecting his winnings were completely dashed this week when the court ruled that the Poker Hall of Famer, along with a female accomplice, cheated when he won 7.7 million pounds ($10.1 million) over the course of two days playing Punto Banco, a form of baccarat, at Crockfords Club in London in 2012.

Ivey pulled in the big haul by using a system called “edge sorting,” which involves the player attempting to differentiate face-down cards as being high or low based on subtle differences in a certain brand’s design or other flaws. Ivey claimed it was a “legitimate technique.” The court disagreed, saying Ivey “exploited” knowledge that he had and the court did not, meaning he has no legal right to his winnings.

Personally, I find both arguments laughable.

Let’s start with the court and Wednesday’s unanimous decision. During the hearing, Lord Hughes, who presented the judgement to the court, said Ivey did not just watch the cards with a “trained eye,” but rather took active steps to fix the shoe by asking the dealer to use a certain brand of cards and turn them on the table a certain way because he was superstitious. Lord Hughes went on to say that the dealer “humored” Ivey and did what he asked because he is a “big spending” customer.

So, even though Ivey and his accomplice “Kelly” Cheung Yin Sun didn’t touch the cards in those winning sessions that took place over the course of two days, Lord Hughes stated that they achieved the winning result by “duping the croupier.”

I beg to differ. This was an error made by the casino. They relented to Sun and Ivey’s multiple, detailed requests and lost — big time.

Statistically, baccarat has one of the lowest house edges of all casino games, with a 1.06% edge on the banker bet. According to reports, Ivey and Sun’s edge sorting gave them — not the house — an advantage of around 6.5%. While that is certainly a huge swing, it does not guarantee a winning session. And that leads us to the greatest argument in Ivey’s favor. If the pair had lost a few million dollars using the same methods, would they have been able to cry foul and get their money back? The answer, obviously, is a clear-cut no.

For instance, let’s say I go to Las Vegas and sit down at the first position at a blackjack table and suddenly notice that a certain dealer is exposing his hole card. If I use that information to my advantage and still somehow lose money, would I be able to go to the pit boss and say I want my money back. Of course not.

Now, I understand this comparison is not exact and there are differences, but you get my point. The dealer, or the casino, was at fault in both cases. All Phil and I did was try to use it to our advantage.

Which brings us to Ivey and the bold statement he released to the media on Wednesday following the court’s ruling:

Ivey has remarked that integrity means everything.

Ivey has remarked that integrity means everything.

"At the time I played at Crockfords, I believed that edge-sorting was a legitimate Advantage Play technique and I believe that more passionately than ever today. As Mr Justice Mitting found, this is not just my personal view but one that 'commands considerable support from others' and I am grateful to the Supreme Court for confirming Mr Justice Mitting’s finding that I was a truthful witness in this respect and that this was my honest belief.

"As a professional gambler, my integrity is everything to me. It is because of my sense of honour and respect for the manner in which gambling is undertaken by professional gamblers such as myself that I have pursued this claim for my unpaid winnings all the way to the Supreme Court.

“It is very frustrating that the U.K. judges have no experience or understanding of casinos and Advantage Play, or the ongoing battle between casinos and professional gamblers attempting to level the playing field. If they had, I am very confident the result in this case would have been in my favour.”

As I've read about this case over the last few years and gotten even more details from the excellent ESPN 30 for 30 podcast about it called “A Queen of Sorts,” I have firmly believed all along that the casino was at fault. Ivey and Sun pounced on the opportunity and deserve to collect their winnings. The casino should learn from it and has every right to never allow either Ivey or Sun on their property ever again. But they shouldn't be able to welch on the winnings.

At the same time, I don’t think what Ivey did could be deemed ethical behavior. Let’s go back to me sitting at that blackjack table where I can see the dealer's hole card. And let’s say this time I crush it thanks to the dealer’s mistake, and somehow get away with it. I wouldn’t try to tell you what I did was right or ethical.

So, Phil, please don't insult us. You are one of the greatest and most popular poker players of all time. A truly transcendent figure in the game. You've earned the reputation as one of the greatest gamblers of all time. The legendary stories are endless. But in this case you got caught with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar. Don't sit there and claim your integrity is "everything" to you.

This wasn't the first and only time that you and Sun went to casino and used this tactic. You successfully pulled off this scheme at many other casinos and took home mountains of cash. In fact, in a separate lawsuit that is awaiting resolution, Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City claims you won $10 million from them in 107 hours of play at a mini-baccarat table in 2012.

During the case against Crockfords, Ivey and his lawyers quoted the 1989 Oxford English Dictionary's definition of cheating ("to deal fraudulently, practice deceit") and claimed that since he wasn't being dishonest, he wasn't cheating.

Before issuing his statement on Wednesday, Ivey should have flipped to the definition of integrity ("the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness"). Because if he did, he wouldn't have tried to tell us how important his integrity is.

Yes, in my mind, Ivey got screwed in this case and should have got his money. But at the same time, by playing the "integrity" card, Phil is making it difficult to gain any sympathy from this space.

Gary Trask
Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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