The Phil Ivey/Borgata case is one that has transfixed the poker and gaming worlds for most of the past six years. One of the side cases in that ongoing legal battle – between the Borgata and the manufacturer of the cards used on that weekend in 2012 – has finally reached its conclusion, much to the dismay of the popular Atlantic City casino.
Last week U. S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman released his decision regarding the Borgata’s suit against Gemaco, the card manufacturer who provides playing cards to casinos around the world. The Borgata had sued Gemaco for $9.6 million, the same amount that Ivey won during his baccarat session six years ago. Alleging that they should have caught the flaw in the cards that Ivey exploited, the Borgata felt that they deserved to be paid for Gemaco’s errors.
For their part, Gemaco stated that there were plenty of things that contributed to Ivey’s ability to shift the stakes in his favor. Gemaco said that the litany of demands that Ivey requested from the Borgata – including playing in a private are away from normal casino regimen, a dealer who spoke Mandarin Chinese, one eight-deck shoe of Gemaco cards that was to never be replaced and an automatic shuffler (among other things) – contributed all together in helping Ivey. Gemaco also noted that the Borgata had already received a judgment in their favor in their lawsuit against Ivey and that this case was an effort at “duplicate recovery,” or trying to earn two monetary judgments on one case.
Judge Hillman was quite extensive in his look at the case, first focusing on Gemaco’s contention that it was a litany of factors that contributed to Ivey’s success and not just the cards. In looking at the many demands that were acquiesced to by the Borgata, Hillman noted that “if even one of those key elements were missing, the edge-sorting scheme would not work.” He also noted that simply the cards alone weren’t enough to have allowed Ivey to work.
As such, Hillman issued two decisions in the case. First was the amount of money that the Borgata could claim from Gemaco regarding the manufacturing defects in their cards. Instead of the $9.6 million claimed by the Borgata, Hillman ruled the maximum amount that the casino could win in the case was…$26, or the amount they paid for the cards. He also instructed the two sides three courses of action – proceeding to trial on the Borgata’s claim of breach of warranty, stay (delay) a final decision on this case so that final appeals on the Borgata/Ivey suit can be adjudicated (more on this in a moment) or give the Borgata and Gemaco time to come to a private resolution (which, with Gemaco earning a decision from the judge that maximum damages would be $26, is the least likely option). Judge Hillman gave the two parties 15 days to make their decision.
The Borgata/Ivey case is one that goes back to 2012, arguably when Ivey was at the peak of his popularity. Ivey came to the Borgata looking to play high stakes baccarat, with several caveats that he requested. One of those requests was that he be allowed a confidant to be seated at the table with him by the name of Cheng Yin Sun (among other things), who would converse with the Chinese speaking dealer during play. It was those actions during play that have come under question.
Ivey looked to shift the odds slightly in his favor by utilizing a technique known as “edge sorting.” Edge sorting is the ability of the player to see a slight cutting flaw in a deck of cards and, being able to identify certain advantageous cards for him in a particular card game (in this case baccarat), use this information to his benefit. In the Borgata case, Sun would ask the dealer to turn the cards towards Ivey, supposedly as a “superstition” of the poker legend. Those cards, due to the usage of the automatic shuffler that was requested by Ivey, kept the orientation of the cards to Ivey and allowed him to know what was being dealt both to him and the house.
Over a four-day span, Ivey and Sun were able to win $9.6 million from the Borgata and another $500,000 in craps that Ivey won with the baccarat winnings. After further examination, the Borgata believed they had been defrauded by Ivey and Sun (because of their edge sorting) and filed suit in 2016 for the $10.1 million that Ivey had won. In that case, the judge found for the Borgata and issued a judgment that Ivey would have to repay that amount. Ivey has appealed the case and it is currently under review by the appeals courts, which is being held up by the case between the Borgata and Gemaco.
With the legal paperwork zipping around and the decisions taking some time from the judges, there doesn’t appear to be any sign that this case – nor the final decision in the overall Borgata/Ivey suit – will conclude any time soon.