Advantage play, or something else? Ivey case divides industry and lawyers

  • Judge rules Ivey liable to pay back casino winnings
  • Lawyers argue that laws are unclear and reform is needed

A recent case against World Series of Poker winner Phil Ivey by Genting Casino, concerning ‘edge-counting’ used in Baccarat games, has sparked a series of discussions across the industry about whether the current laws on cheating are clear.

phil ivey cheating genting casino
Advantage play or against the etiquette of the game? Ivey vs Genting Casino

The widely accepted view is that Ivey’s actions were not prohibited by law – yet he lost his case and subsequent appeal, and is liable to pay back or forfeit around £17 million won when using this strategy.

The ‘advantage play’ strategy – is it cheating?

Edge sorting is at the heart of the Phil Ivey case. Gamblers and the industry are split as to whether it actually constitutes cheating – more specifically, whether the method is a breach of etiquette but not of the law.

A player who is edge sorting makes the most of slight differences in the back of a card’s design, which make the cards look slightly different when upside down or the right way up. To sort by edges, players request that the dealer turns the cards round, or turns them while holding them, so that the direction of low and high cards differs. During the game, the player can use this knowledge to gain a significant advantage.

To many, it could sound like cheating – but there are no holdout devices used, and no cards being marked. Players are not removing cards from the game.

Like card counting, the act is not exactly illegal, although it is certainly unfair. This is why the action against Ivey, and the subsequent returning of millions he has won at the tables, is subject to such controversy. Nobody is denying that his play was unfair – but was it illegal, and should action have been taken against him?

Lawmakers in the UK and the US are calling for a fresh look at the laws surrounding gambling and advantage play, in order to protect gamblers and casino businesses.

The reformed laws could also give gamblers more clarity when it comes to advantage play, and make clear what is permitted during a game – and what is deemed unacceptable in public games.


OUR VERDICT

It’s clear to see why this is bit of a tricky case, and why it’s divided opinion so much. Any player will understand both sides of the arguments here: a professional competitor, like Ivey and many others, will use any advantage to win. Even an advantage that is viewed dimly like edge sorting – as long as the law doesn’t specifically outlaw a practice in any sport or competition there will be those that exploit that advantage. Of course, if you’re playing again an ‘edge sorter’ then you would understandably take a dim view of the practice being used to beat you. In some respects it’s an argument that comes down to morals. Yes, if you don’t edge sort – or use any other ‘questionable’ practices – then you play a fairer game and you’ve won because of that. But, would you win big like Ivey who, technically, hasn’t done anything illegal? Maybe not. And it’s that ruthless application of any advantage that sets certain competitors above others. Lawmakers are right to look at defining the regulations as a result of this case. If nothing else it will serve to create an even playing field where everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet – and that’s never a bad thing. Until someone finds the next ‘advantage’…

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