Supreme Court dismisses top poker player’s bid to recover £7.7m winnings from London casino

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Phil Ivey, a leading poker player, has lost a Supreme Courtchallenge over his £7.7 million winnings from a London casino.

The 40-year-old American has been fighting to recover the money since successfully playing a version of baccarat known as Punto Banco at Crockfords Club in Mayfair in 2012.

Owner Genting Casinos UK said a technique he used called edge-sorting was not a legitimate strategy. Mr Ivey maintained that he won fairly.

On Wednesday, five justices unanimously upheld the majority decision of the Court of Appeal, which dismissed his case on the basis that dishonesty was not a necessary element of “cheating”.

After successfully playing a version of baccarat known as Punto Banco there in 2012, Mr Ivey was told the money would be wired to him in Las Vegas, but it never arrived, although his stake money of £1 million was returned.

Genting said the technique of “edge-sorting” he used, which involves identifying small differences in the pattern on the reverse of playing cards and exploiting that information to increase the chances of winning, was not a legitimate strategy.

Mr Ivey did not personally touch any cards, but persuaded the croupier to rotate the most valuable cards by intimating that he was superstitious.

In the Supreme Court, Lord Hughes said it was an essential element of Punto Banco that the game was one of pure chance, with cards delivered entirely at random and unknowable by the punters or the house.

“What Mr Ivey did was to stage a carefully planned and executed sting.”

He added: “If he had surreptitiously gained access to the shoe and re-arranged the cards physically himself, no-one would begin to doubt that he was cheating.

“He accomplished exactly the same result through the unwitting but directed actions of the croupier, tricking her into thinking that what she did was irrelevant.”

Mr Ivey, said Lord Hughes, did much more than observe – he took “positive steps to fix the deck”.

“That, in a game which depends on random delivery of unknown cards, is inevitably cheating. That it was clever and skilful, and must have involved remarkably sharp eyes, cannot alter that truth.”

Mr Ivey said in a statement after the ruling: “It makes no sense that the UK Supreme Court has ruled against me, in my view, contrary to the facts and any possible logic involved in our industry.”

He added: “At the time I played at Crockfords, I believed that edge-sorting was a legitimate Advantage Play technique and I believe that more passionately than ever today.

“As Mr Justice Mitting found, this is not just my personal view but one that ‘commands considerable support from others’ and I am grateful to the Supreme Court for confirming Mr Justice Mitting’s finding that I was a truthful witness in this respect and that this was my honest belief.

“As a professional gambler, my integrity is everything to me.

“It is because of my sense of honour and respect for the manner in which gambling is undertaken by professional gamblers such as myself that I have pursued this claim for my unpaid winnings all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Paul Willcock, president and chief operating officer of Genting UK, said: “We are delighted that the High Court, the Court of Appeal and now the Supreme Court have all found in Genting’s favour, confirming that we acted fairly and properly at all times and that Mr Ivey’s conduct did indeed amount to cheating.

“This entirely vindicates Genting’s decision not to pay Mr Ivey, a decision that was not taken lightly.”

In the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice Arden said the Gambling Act 2005 provided that someone might cheat “without dishonesty or intention to deceive: depending on the circumstances, it may be enough that he simply interferes with the process of the game”.

Mr Ivey’s counsel, Richard Spearman QC, had told five justices that the point of law of general public importance was “whether dishonesty is a necessary element of the offence of cheating” under section 42 of the 2005 Act.

He had argued the case should be allowed because the Court of Appeal wrongly held that dishonesty was not a necessary element of “cheating”, whether for purposes of section 42 or for purposes of the implied term, on which Crockfords allowed him to play, that he would not cheat.

Mr Spearman had argued that Mr Ivey should also succeed because the High Court originally found that he was neither dishonest nor had perpetrated any material deception, and it was not open to an appellate court to disturb those findings.

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