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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Poker Pro Ordered to Pay Back $10.1M in Winnings

The Borgata will recover more than $10 million from professional gambler Phil Ivey and his partner, but a federal judge said the comps it provided are off the table.

CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) – The Borgata will recover more than $10 million from professional gambler Phil Ivey and his partner, but a federal judge said the comps it provided are off the table.

U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman’s ruling comes two months after finding that Ivey and Cheng Yin Sun committed a breach of contract, though not a fraud, in 2012 by manipulating the cards in baccarat to win $9.6 million.

By having the dealer turn cards that Sun identified as having "minute asymmetries" on the diamond pattern found on the back of the cards, Ivey was later able to distinguish the marked cards and adjust his bets accordingly.

Hillman said the edge-sorting scheme essentially boiled down to an act of cunning and skill, but one that is illegal under New Jersey law since the New Jersey Casino Control Act prohibits players from unilaterally increasing odds in their favor.

The Borgata sought $15.5 million in damages, but Judge Hillman awarded a reduced amount on Dec. 15.

Hillman said the parties should be returned to the status quo, which means that Ivey and Sun must return $10.1 million in winnings tied to baccarat. This number also includes the money Ivey won by taking his baccarat winnings to the craps table.

Hillman rejected, however, the Borgata’s demand for another $5.4 million based on the calculation of what “it would have won if the standard 1.06% Banker bet odds and 1.24% player bet odds were employed for all four playing sessions.”

“This theory of damages which focuses on the hypothetical – what the Borgata would have won if the game had not been played with marked cards - fails for the reasons articulated by defendants,” the judge said in a footnote. “It is simply too speculative to fashion an appropriate remedy.”

The casino is also out the $249,199.83 worth of complimentary goods and services that it provided Ivey and Sun while they were gambling.

“The very nature of ‘comps’ is that there is no expectation the recipient must return those goods or services if the casino does not obtain some or all of its anticipated benefits,” the 11-page decision states. “Borgata’s ‘comps’ to Ivey and Sun were provided for many reasons, including to entice a celebrity gambler to its casino to attract more patrons, and to endeavor to win presumably large sums from a high roller. Because the ‘comps’ were not tied to an obligation that Ivey win or lose, or do anything in particular except to visit Borgata, Borgata is not entitled to the return of the value of those “comps” as part of its breach of contract damages.”

Ivey and Sun are represented by Atlantic City law firm Jacobs & Barbone. Jeremy Klausner of the Hackensack firm Agostino & Associates represented the Borgata.

Neither attorney immediately responded to requests for comment.

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