Phil Ivey Loses in UK Supreme Court
Phil Ivey is not a gambler who takes well to losing. Anyone who has seen him bust out of a poker tournament knows he may shake a few competitors’ hands if necessary, but he quickly finds the nearest exit and leaves the premises. He doesn’t dwell on losses, mentally or physically.
Today’s loss in the UK Supreme Court may sting for a while, though. Not only did he lose the right to £7.7 million that he won playing punto banco in a London casino in 2012, it was a unanimous decision to side with the casino, essentially contending that Ivey cheated despite the lack of dishonest intentions. And one justice even accused Ivey of staging a “carefully planned and executed sting.”
Five Years of Unfavorable Rulings for Ivey
The gambling session took place in the summer of 2012 at Crockfords Club, a casino in Mayfair, London, owned by Genting Casinos UK. Ivey and Cheung Yin Sun spent three nights at the high-stakes punto banco tables playing £50,000 to £150,000 per hand. The duo started off with a loss of £500,000 but then requested permission to bet higher and use the same cards repeatedly due to Sun’s superstition. They also made other requests of the dealers, such as turning the cards in a particular direction, and all requests were met. Ivey and his gambling partner left the casino up £7.7 million beyond the £1 million they brought to the table.
Crockfords paid his initial £1 million investment to the duo, but the staff only delivered a receipt for the winnings and expressed an intention to wire it to him at a later date. When that did not happen, Ivey enlisted the help of attorneys, who filed suit against Crockfords.
Essentially, Crockfords accused Ivey and Sun of using edge sorting, a technique by which players memorize any flaws in the patterns on the back of the cards and use that information for subsequent bets. The process is not illegal but discouraged by casinos.
Our podcast #AQueenOfSorts tells the story behind Phil Ivey's lost court battle costing him $10.2M in winnings.
— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) October 25, 2017
The legal proceedings that followed argued the meaning of a section of the UK Gambling Act of 2005, which leads to questions regarding cheating as permissible if there is no dishonesty or intention to deceive. Ivey claimed that he wanted to clear his name so as not to be associated with allegations of cheating, while Crockfords wanted to set a precedent that edge sorting and other similar advantage play is not allowed.
London’s High Court started the legal ordeal in 2013 and ruled against Ivey in 2014, noting that edge sorting was not a legitimate way to win. The Court of Appeals was the next stop, and the justices there ruled for Crockfords again, reiterating that edge sorting was a form of cheating, no matter the intentions of the gambler. When he appealed that decision, the UK Supreme Court agreed in early 2017 to hear the case. Arguments were presented in July, and the decision was announced this week.
The five justices of the UK Supreme Court issued their final ruling today, October 25. And that decision was to uphold that of the Court of Appeals, dismissing Ivey’s claim that intentional dishonesty was not a necessary element of cheating.
The judgement referred to numerous gambling laws dating back to 1664 and ultimately referred primarily to the Gambling Act of 2005:
“The new Gambling Commission is, however, given by section 336 a new power to declare void a bet taken by a licensee if satisfied that the bet was “substantially unfair”. Amongst the factors (not exhaustively defined) which are to be considered when deciding whether a bet was substantially unfair is included the circumstance that either party to the bet either did believe or ought to have believed that an offence of cheating had been or was likely to have been committed in connection with it, although that is by no means the only consideration. Supply of insufficient information and the belief of either party that the underlying contest is conducted in contravention of industry rules are two of the other specified relevant circumstances.”
The justices wrote that the common ground of the legal proceedings between Ivey and Crockfords was a “contract for betting” that both parties entered and was subject to an “implied term that neither of them will cheat.” Therefore, Ivey’s cheating breached that contract.
Further, the original judge’s conclusion that Ivey’s actions amounted to cheating was “unassailable,” according to the Supreme Court. “It is an essential element of punto banco that the game is one of pure chance, with cards delivered entirely at random and unknowable by the punters or the house. What Mr. Ivey did was to stage a carefully planned and executed sting.”
“It may be that it would not be cheating if a player spotted that some cards had a detectably different back from others, and took advantage of that observation, but 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. That it was clever and skillful, and must have involved remarkably sharp eyes, cannot alter that truth.”
Finally, the last of the points in the judgement dealt with dishonesty. The judgement read that Ivey’s claim that his behavior was honest was, in fact, untruthful.
“For the same reasons which show that Mr. Ivey’s conduct was, contrary to his own opinion, cheating, the better view would be, if the question arose, that his conduct was, contrary to his own opinion, also dishonest.”
With that, Ivey’s appeal was dismissed.
The Crockfords attorney told the press it was “one of the most significant decisions in criminal law in a generation. The concept of dishonesty,” said Stephen Parkinson, “is central to a whole range of offenses, including fraud.”
If Ivey was truthful about his reputation being more important than the money, this decision is even more cutting, as justices likened his actions a sting and referred to his conduct and opinions as dishonest.