ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – A federal judge ruled on Friday that poker pro Phil Ivey and a companion violated state gambling regulations in the way they won nearly $10 million at cards at an Atlantic City casino.
U.S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman determined that the pair did not meet their obligation to follow gambling regulations on four occasions in 2012 by having a dealer at the Borgata arrange Baccarat cards so they could tell what kind of card was coming next.
By shifting the odds in their favor, they violated the New Jersey Casino Control Act, the judge ruled. He threw out allegations by the Borgata that the pair had committed fraud, and the casino now has 20 days to outline the damages it says it suffered.
“Borgata and Ivey had the same goal when they entered into their arrangement: to profit at the other’s expense,” the judge wrote. “Trust is a misplaced sentiment in this context.”
Ivey has won nine World Series of Poker bracelets. Lawyers for him and the casino did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
The Borgata claimed the pair exploited a defect in cards that enabled them to sort and arrange good cards. The casino says the technique, called edge sorting, violates state casino gambling regulations. But Ivey asserts his win was simply the result of skill and good observation.
The Borgata claims the cards used in the games were defective in that the pattern on the back was not uniform. The cards have rows of small white circles designed to look like the tops of cut diamonds, but the Borgata says some of them were only half-diamonds or quarters. Ivey has said he simply noticed things that anyone playing the game could have observed and bet accordingly.
The judge noted that Ivey and companion player Cheng Yin Sun instructed dealers to arrange the cards in a certain way, which is permitted under the rules of the game, after Sun noticed minute differences in them. But he ruled those actions did violate state Casino Control Act and their contractual obligation to abide by it in gambling at the casino.
Ivey and Sun, the judge wrote, “view their actions to be akin to cunning, but not rule-breaking, maneuvers performed in many games, such as a play-action pass in American football, or the ‘Marshall swindle’ in chess.”
He said “Sun’s mental acumen” in distinguishing the tiny differences in the patterns on the back of the cards was “remarkable.”
“But even though Ivey and Sun’s cunning and skill did not break the rules of Baccarat,” the judge wrote, “what sets Ivey and Sun’s actions apart from deceitful maneuvers in other games is that those maneuvers broke the rules of gambling as defined in this state.”