Fair and Square

     I don’t think the guy who won $10 million at baccarat was cheating.
     In case you missed Dan McCue’s story on our page this week, the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City sued a guy who won $9.6 million from it, accusing him of cheating.
     The Borgata admits it took a $1 million deposit from the guy – Philip Ivey Jr. – then provided him a custom-made room and followed his precise orders, acting on the presumption, no doubt, that he was not as smart as the casino. Which was a bad bet.
     To recap the story: You win at baccarat by betting which pair of facedown cards will add up to closer to 9. You bet before the dealer deals two two-card hands. Because of the prevalence of face cards and 10s – which count for zero – if a baccarat player knows the top card is an 8 or a 9, it’s safe bet to put your money on that hand.
     What Ivey did, apparently, was notice that the diamond design on the backs of the Borgata’s playing cards are not perfectly symmetrical – the diamonds on one side are cut off smaller than those on the other. So if he could play one round through the eight-deck shoe, and somehow get the dealer to turn all the valuable cards, as needed, so that the short diamonds on the valuable cards would all be on the left, or the right, he could see if the top card in the shoe was a 6, 7, 8 or 9, and bet on that hand, if it was.
     So what clever device did Ivey use to get the Borgata to do this?
     He asked them to do it.
     That’s right – and remember, the casino filed the lawsuit, so I’m telling the story from the casino’s viewpoint.
     Because gamblers are superstitious, the casino acceded when Ivey asked it to have the dealer lay the cards on the table according to the instructions from his accomplice – who spoke to the dealer in Mandarin Chinese. The Borgata also complied with his request to have a dealer who spoke Mandarin.
     Why the Chinese speakers were necessary is beyond me. Maybe Ivey’s Mandarin-speaking pal has really sharp eyes. At any rate, the dealer did just what he was told, so the second time through the shoe, after playing 104 games at house odds, Ivey knew whether the top card in the shoe was a 6, 7, 8 or 9 – because the Borgata had lined up the cards for him.
     So Ivey won $9.6 million.
     And the Borgata says he cheated.
     I don’t see how. He did everything right out in the open. The casino was happy to take his million-dollar deposit. It was happy to give him a private room so it was just him against the house. It was happy to give him a dealer who spoke Mandarin. It was happy to use an automatic shuffling machine so the cards wouldn’t be turned around in the shuffle, and it was happy to line up the cards however Ivey’s pal told it to line them up.
     So who’s cheating? It looks to me like a game between consenting adults, and one consenting adult – the Borgata – was dumber than the other one.
     The Borgata claims in its lawsuit that Ivey ran the same trick on a casino in England, and won a few million there. So what’s the beef? That the Borgata found out about it too late?
     Everyone knows that house odds favor the casinos. That’s how casinos stay in business. The people who run casinos are just as greedy for money as the gamblers are. The Borgata figures it’s smarter than the average gambler – and it is – but it wasn’t smarter than this one. Too bad for the casino.
     Next thing you know the casino will demand its money back because Ivey took advantage of the Borgata’s compulsive gambling habit.

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