On Wednesday, US Poker Player Phil Ivey lost his case in London’s Supreme Court, with judges ruling that Ivey used cheating tactics in order to win £7.7 million.
Ivey won the winnings at the Crockfords Club in London five years ago while playing a form of Baccarat called Punto Banco. However, at the time, the casino withheld the 40-year-old professional gamblers winnings due to his use of “edge-sorting.”
Edge-sorting is a technique Punto Banco players use to spot slight differences in the design on the back of cards to identify the cards being dealt. Fiver judges ruled that Ivey used those tactics in order to cheat and supported Crockfords’ decision to withhold the £7.7 million winnings.
“What Mr. Ivey did was to stage a carefully planned and executed sting,” said judge Anthony Hughes.
“Mr. Ivey did much more than observe; he took positive steps to fix the deck. That, in a game which depends on random delivery of unknown cards, is inevitably cheating.”
However, Ivey argued and said that edge-sorting was a legitimate strategy. Technically, edge-sorting is not an illegal technique although it is frowned upon in the gambling world similar to how counting cards is frowned upon in poker.
Paul Willcock, president of the casino owner Genting UK, praised the court’s decision to dismiss Ivey’s argument for edge-sorting.
“This has been a landmark case in how the courts approach cheating in the modern day and will have wide ramifications for the gaming industry,” he said in a statement. “Crockfords’ reputation for discretion, integrity and fairness has remained absolutely intact.”
Although this particular case took place in the UK, prohibitions on cheating are defined by state law and supported by case law. Nevada, for example, defines cheating in a gaming context by statute:
“As used in this chapter:
1. ‘Cheat’ means to alter the elements of chance, method of selection or criteria which determine:
a. The result of a game;
b. The amount or frequency of payment in a game;
c. The value of a wagering instrument; or
d. The value of a wagering credit.”
Nevertheless, what Ivey did exists on a continuum, with many forms in a gray area between cheating and innocent play. Cases that fall in the middle of that spectrum, like edge-sorting, create challenging legal questions.
Courts have yet to sort out many of these questions. Outside of card-counting and outright cheating, most forms of advantage play have not been challenged in court until now. This suit will no doubt fill in the gaps of gaming law as it pertains to advantage play.
It looks like Phil Ivey will challenge the judge’s decision. After the ruling Ivey said the judges lacked knowledge of casinos or gambling tactics and claimed there was an “ongoing battle” between casinos and professional players trying to “level the playing field”.
“It makes no sense that the UK Supreme Court has ruled against me, in my view, contrary to the facts and any possible logic involved in our industry,” he said.