Phil Ivey Lost Case Because Govt. Gets Cut of Casino Profits

Last month, professional gambler Phil Ivey was ordered to repay the Borgata casino $10.1 million over a baccarat case. U.S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman claims that it’s because Ivey violated New Jersey’s Casino Control Act.

But one journalist is under the strong suspicion that Ivey didn’t lose because he and his accomplice, Cheung Yin Sun, violated this act. Instead, the case result may stem entirely from the fact that New Jersey gets a big cut of the Borgata’s profits.

As Federalist reporter Kyle Sammin writes, Judge Hillman ruled that Ivey and Sun requested a marked (flawed) deck to win. But given that the pair didn’t alter the deck in any way, Ivey and Sun didn’t technically engage in card-marking.

Here’s an excerpt from Sammin’s argument that explains his point in full:

Part of the problem lies in a section of the Casino Control Act that bans anyone from knowingly using cards ”which have in any manner been marked or tampered with, or placed in a condition, or operated in a manner, the result of which tends to deceive the public or tends to alter the normal random selection of characteristics or the normal chance of the game which could determine or alter the result of the game.” Any contract that violates the Casino Control Act is unenforceable.

The rule is clearly intended to prevent players from marking cards, or working with a casino employee to help them cheat. Ivey and Sun did neither of these things, nor did they violate any rule of the game. They found a loophole and, after getting the casino to agree in writing that they could, they exploited it.

The broadness of the statutory provision, and the court’s willingness to construe it against the party that never touched the cards, much less marked them, shows the extent to which casinos and the government work together to make sure all the players, in the long run, will lose.

Considering that many advantage players have made hefty profits by using skill (i.e. blackjack card counting, roulette wheel bias), it’s hard to see how Ivey lost his case since he made special requests — which the casino granted — and used skill to win.

But as Sammin points out, the judge’s decision is likely a result of how much money the government is making off casinos. If Judge Hillman allows Ivey to keep this money, that’s millions in tax write-offs that Borgata receives, and less money to the state capital in Trenton.

Given that casinos paid New Jersey $300 million in tax money in 2015 alone, state lawmakers and the courts have little reason to side with a gambler in this type of case.