Poker Pro Pushed Legal Edge of Gambling, Lost Big

Phil Ivey, companion have to pay $10.1M back to the Borgata
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 20, 2016 8:28 AM CST
Updated Dec 24, 2016 11:26 AM CST
Purple Decks of Cards Led to $10M Win. He Has to Return It
In this July 15, 2009 file photo, Phil Ivey looks up during the World Series of Poker at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/Laura Rauch, File)

Phil Ivey is a poker pro, but in 2012 he was on a baccarat hot streak, winning $9.6 million over four visits to Atlantic City's Borgata. It's not money he'll keep. A federal judge last week ordered Ivey and companion player Cheng Yin Sun to return $10.1 million to the casino—the baccarat money plus another $500,000 won at craps by spending those baccarat winnings. But as the Washington Post reports, US District Court Judge Noel Hillman didn't find Ivey and Sun had committed fraud as the Borgata alleged. What they did do is breach "their primary obligation to not use marked cards in violation of" New Jersey's Casino Control Act, per Hillman. How the duo did so: edge-sorting. The Post explains that casinos will give "accommodations" to high-rolling players, and Ivey requested five.

The end result is that he played at a private table with his companion, with a dealer who spoke Mandarin Chinese and used purple Gemaco Borgata playing cards that were shuffled with an automatic shuffler. The linchpin was Sun's "impeccable eyesight," as reports. A June New York Times Magazine article that featured Sun described how she spent "around a thousand hours" studying nearly unrecognizable differences in the patterns of the cards (this after losing a fortune gambling and spending three weeks in prison over an unpaid debt; read her colorful story here). She would tell the dealer to turn certain cards 180 degrees, and that rotation would be maintained by the automatic shuffler. What they don't have to repay: the $249,199.83 in "comps" provided to them by the Borgata. (This poker showdown got a little testy.)

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