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Famous Pro Poker Player Must Pay Back $10.1M in Baccarat Winnings

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By George Khoury, Esq. on December 21, 2016 10:02 AM

Phil Ivey, a World Series of Poker professional player that has won more than $6 million on the tour, and over $19 million from playing online poker, has run into some legal trouble with an Atlantic City casino. The poker pro, who calls himself the Tiger Woods of poker (maybe he might want to reconsider that one), along with an accomplice, in 2012, used a technique known as "edge sorting" in order to win/scam $9.6 million playing baccarat at the Bargota.

It seems he would have gotten away with it. However, in 2014, a London casino discovered that Ivey and his accomplice were edge sorting. In addition to the two not being paid their winnings in London, the Borgata in Atlantic City took notice, reviewed their losses, and filed suit.

What About Criminal Liability?

In the London case, the judge officially stated that edge-sorting was cheating. Fortunately for Ivey and his accomplice, the federal court in New Jersey did not state that they were engaged in fraud or cheating (which could have led to criminal liability). However, the court did order that they return their winnings as edge sorting violates the New Jersey Casino Control Act, which prohibits players from taking actions that alter the odds.

Furthermore, Ivey had won an additional $500,000 on other games using the illegal baccarat winnings, and was required to return those monies as well. However, the Borgata Casino will not be reimbursed for the $250K that they comped Ivey and his accomplice.

Cheating the House Is Not Legal

While it may be much more likely that the casino is going to win than you are, that does not mean that you can cheat. Like Ivey's case illustrates, any winnings you receive, even from just tilting the odds more in your favor, can be disgorged. Despite the federal judge's ruling that edge sorting is not cheating, another judge, particularly one from Nevada, could come to a different conclusion.

While it may seem irrational that tricks like edge sorting or counting cards would be considered illegal, as these are skill-intensive tricks, these generally are illegal in the sense that they violate the contract a gambler has with a casino to play fairly and according to the accepted rules of the game. However, cheating can often be viewed as type of fraud and can be criminally prosecuted.

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