Ivey Loses Appeal Over $9.7 Million in Unpaid Punto Banco “Winnings”

As first reported by the U.K.’s Telegraph, on November 3rd professional poker player and high-stakes gambler Phil Ivey lost his final argument in front of England’s Court of Appeal – which ruled in favor of London-based Crockfords Casino, effectively ending Ivey’s bid to claim £7.7 million ($9.7 million) in disputed payouts from a 2012 session.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Ivey rejected the Court’s final judgement out of hand:

“This decision makes no sense to me. The trial judge said that I was not dishonest and the three appeal judges agreed, but somehow the decision has gone against me. Can someone tell me how you can have honest cheating?”

The appeal lodged on behalf of Ivey sought to overturn a 2014 ruling issued by the High Court, which found that the poker pro and his female associate Cheung Yin Sun had conspired to cheat Crockfords in a high-stakes game of the baccarat variant punto banco played in 2012.

During that session, Ivey began with a stake of £1 million and proceeded to wager $50,000 on each hand of punto banco – a two-card guessing game which is essentially the same as the baccarat played throughout North America. Along with his companion Sun, Ivey proceeded to make several unusual requests to casino staff, including that various decks of cards be removed and replaced. Eventually, Ivey found a deck to his liking, and immediately requested that the table limits be increased to $150,000 per hand.

After winning more than £2 million that night, Ivey and Sun asked Crockfords to keep the same cards in play out of “superstition,” before returning the next night to win another £5.7 million. A banker’s holiday delayed Crockfords’ settlement of that debt, however, and upon conducting an internal review of the session, casino executives elected to withhold payment of any winnings – although Ivey did receive his initial stake back.

In 2013 Ivey brought his case to court, suing Crockfords in hopes of claiming the £7.7 million he believed was owed to him. But in court filings connected with that case, Ivey admitted to practicing “edge-sorting” – a technique used by advantage play gamblers to detect imperfections printed on the backs of playing cards.

By cycling through several decks until finding one with a particular imperfection, Ivey was able to scan the backs to identify high and low cards – thus lending himself a tremendous advantage in an ostensible guessing game.

Per the ruling written by justice Sir John Witting in 2014, the High Court agreed with Crockfords second complaint, which concerned the use of edge-sorting as a method of cheating:

“(Ivey) was [manipulating the game] in circumstances in which he knew that she and her superiors did not realise the consequence of what she had done at his instigation. Accordingly, he converted a game in which the knowledge of both sides as to the likelihood that player or banker will win – in principle nil – was equal into a game in which his knowledge is greater than that of the croupier and greater than that which she would reasonably have expected it to be.

This in my view is cheating for the purposes of civil law.”

Ivey appealed the ruling last year, and the three-member Court of Appeal ruled against him for a second time, as described by Lady Justice Mary Arden’s written opinion:

“After carefully considering the arguments … I conclude … that Mr Ivey’s challenge to the judge’s conclusion must fail. Mr Ivey achieved his winnings through manipulating Crockfords’ facilities for the game without Crockfords’ knowledge.”