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Arguably one of the world’s best poker players, Phil Ivey (cover image) enjoys cult popularity among the poker fraternity. The poker superstar who only four months ago started teaching poker strategy in his MasterClass had a reasonably good summer with four scores worth a cumulative $133,395 at the 2019 WSOP. Industry insiders feel that Ivey`s summer scorecard could have looked much better had Borgata not come chasing his winnings at the series.
The incident in question took place on June 27 when Ivey was playing Day 3 of 2019 WSOP Event #58: $50,000 Poker Players Championships (PPC). Ivey had entered the day as the chip leader with only 38 players remaining and was doing well on the felts. He ended the day as the top stack for the second consecutive day running amid 12 survivors. Borgata, however, was keeping a close eye on Ivey`s progress in the series and promptly served a notice upon WSOP the same day informing them that it has obtained a formal writ of execution against Ivey and his gaming partner Kelly Sun. The order legally entitled them to claim any winnings Ivey received at the series. Not long after that Ivey busted the tournament in eighth place for $124,410 – his most notable cash all summer.
The casino’s action stems from a notoriously famous lawsuit that has its origins in 2012 when Ivey along with Sun deployed a technique of edge-sorting while playing high stakes Baccarat at the Atlantic City-based Borgata Hotel and Casino in 2012. The duo identified minor imperfections in the cards that helped them win $9.6 Million at the casino. A few months later, the pair was involved in a similar incident but this time at the Crockfords Casino in London. Ivey and Sun once again playing high stakes Baccarat used edge-sorting to win nearly $11 Million (£7.7 Million). Crockfords withheld the payment and charged Ivey and Sun with cheating. The incident had severe ramifications for Ivey as this news prompted Borgata to initiate legal action against him in 2014 to recover what the casino felt were ill-gotten gains.
Ivey lost both the cases and their subsequent appeals. As far as Borgata was concerned, the District Court of New Jersey ruled in the casino’s favor and directed Ivey to pay $10.1 Million in damages to Borgata. His subsequent appeal against the judgment was also struck down by the court.
Ivey and Borgata continued to remain at legal loggerheads, with the poker pro appealing the order in the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Borgata, in the meantime, succeeding in having the case transferred to Nevada to seize Ivey’s properties and businesses to recover its lost winnings.
Ivey Vs. Borgata – The Timeline
> 2012 – Between April to October, Phil Ivey and his playing partner Kelly Sun played high stakes baccarat sessions at the Atlantic City-based Borgata Hotel and Casino. The duo used a playing technique called edge-sorting that allowed them to exploit subtle manufacturing defects on the back of the playing cards and gain a considerable advantage over the house. They won close to $9.6 Million in Baccarat and another $560,000 at the craps tables.
> April 2014 – Borgata filed a lawsuit against Ivey and his partner alleging that they had cheated the casino of $9.6 Million.
> July 2014 – Ivey filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and claimed that his $9.6 Million winnings were “All skill.”
> July 2015 – In a countersuit, Ivey and Sun said Borgata had intentionally destroyed the deck of cards that were used during these games where he won the money.
> August 2015 – Ivey claimed that the casino had sought an unfair edge by plying him with alcohol served by beautiful women to distract him and impair his judgment. Ivey’s lawsuit was rejected by the court.
> October 2016 – The US District Court of New Jersey dismissed the fraud and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) allegations against Ivey and Sun but ruled that the duo had breached their contract with the Borgata by gaining an edge over the house.
Borgata claimed that edge-sorting changed the overall odds of the game from an approximate 1.06% house advantage to a 6.765% advantage for Ivey.
Favoring Borgata, Judge Noel Hillman wrote, “Even though Ivey and Sun’s cunning and skill did not break the rules of baccarat, what sets Ivey and Sun’s actions apart from deceitful maneuvers in other games is that those maneuvers broke the rules of gambling as defined in this state.”
> December 2016 – Judge Hillman ruled that Ivey and Sun must pay $10.1 Million to the casino. The judge, however, rejected Borgata’s request to be paid an additional $5.4 Million as ‘expectations damage.’
> July 2018 – Ivey and Sun appealed the decision citing that the enormity of the ordered damages would have a devastating impact on Ivey and his poker career.
>August 4, 2018 – Borgata furnished a new set of documents to the court pointing out that Ivey had participated in the 2018 WSOP. Borgata argued that if Ivey could afford to enter high stakes tournaments, he could also pay the bond amount pending from his end, in the case.
“First, let us not forget that Ivey has Borgata’s $10 million,” Borgata claimed, adding that Ivey’s appeal seeking to delay the judgment and avoid posting a bond on the ground that the enormity of the amount would have a devastating impact on him was erroneous. Borgata also furnished documents listing more than $2 Million worth of Ivey’s tournament poker scores from 2018.
> August 28, 2018 – Judge Hillman denied Ivey and Sun’s motion to stay the $10.1 Million judgment and certified the order as final, according to court documents.
> September 1, 2018 – Ivey appealed the order in the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He claimed that he didn’t have the assets to pay so much in damages.
The same month, Borgata filed a cross-appeal with the third circuit Court of Appeals, asking the court to re-examine previous judgment that dismissed the RICO violation allegations. Borgata also claimed that Ivey had emptied his New Jersey bank account. They asked the court that the judgment be registered in Nevada so that they could pursue Ivey’s holdings in the state, which they claimed were roughly $100 Million.
>January 29, 2019 – A day after Borgata’s counsel submitted request for the judgment to be docketed in Nevada, Judge Hillman approved the request. Ivey’s lawyers did not object or prevent the docketing motion from moving forward. Despite the approval, the judgment was still not docketed into the Nevada system for four months.
Borgata Chases Ivey’s WSOP Winnings
According to a report on Flush Draw, on June 18, Borgata counsel Jeremy M. Klausner submitted additional paperwork to the Nevada District Court and filed a formal writ of execution against Ivey and his co-defendant Kelly Sun. The writ that legally permits Borgata to seize Ivey’s assets or money to recover its $10.1 Million was approved the next day.
On June 27, just as Ivey had ended Day 3 of the $50,000 PPC at the 2019 WSOP as the chip leader amidst 12 survivors, Klausner served notice to the WSOP management. The notice clearly mentioned that Borgata had obtained a writ of execution that gave the casino rights to $10.13 Million in principal, along with interest and court fees from Ivey`s assets.
It’s still not clear whether WSOP has withheld Ivey’s winnings or remitted them to Borgata, but things have clearly been difficult for Ivey. Incidentally, precisely a week after the Borgata notice was submitted to the WSOP, Ivey playing Day 1C of Event #73: $10,000 Main Event – busted the event unceremoniously in the first level of the play itself.
Clearly, Ivey`s legal troubles with Borgata have taken a more severe turn that now threatens the immediate poker future of the decorated poker player. What will be the ultimate outcome of this legal saga is still not known but one thing is for sure, we won’t be seeing Ivey playing many poker tournaments in Las Vegas for some time now.