It’s In the Cards

Most lawyers are risk-averse by nature.  Gambling with their clients’ fortunes is not something you see very often.  

By contrast, Nevada professional gambler Phil Ivey is largely regarded as the greatest living poker player in the world. His string of success at the tables since winning three championship bracelets at the 2002 World Series of Poker has catapulted Ivey into iconic status among poker’s elite and the public. 

Now, Ivey is considering his legal options after losing a lawsuit in London where he challenged a casino’s decision to withhold more than $12 million that Ivey “won” by allegedly relying on an unfair advantage in a version of baccarat, a popular casino card game.

Using his observational skills and a card dealer’s willingness to arrange the cards in a certain direction, Ivey employed a tactic called “edge sorting,” which allowed him to determine the face value of cards based on design imperfections on the cards’ backs. The casino claimed this setup presented Ivey with an unfair advantage that voided the multimillion-dollar haul he thought he’d won in 2012.

A judge with the High Court of Justice in London acknowledged that Ivey was a truthful witness who believed what he was doing was not cheating, but the court nonetheless found that Ivey’s advantage was precluded by the casino’s rules.

The argument over whether it is ethical or “cheating” to gain an advantage based on printing flaws on playing cards may be tested again as early as next year when Ivey faces civil claims filed by the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In that case, the casino says Ivey and a friend conspired to win more than $9 million in 2012 using the same “edge sorting” technique.

Of course, when you already know what the cards are because you’ve mastered the art of edge sorting, it’s not quite the risk that other gamblers take, is it?  Maybe he and his lawyers have more in common than we think.  

Posted: 11/10/2014 8:28:19 AM by TCLE Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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