Yes, Poker Champ Phil Ivey Cheated, Even If He Didn’t Think He Did

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Phil Ivey is known as one of the best all-around professional card players in the world, in part because he notices things that other players, even great ones, may not. While playing baccarat at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City in 2012, Ivey and a friend noticed  inconsistencies on the back of the cards that allowed him to read some of them as if they were marked. He even asked the dealer to position the cards so he could see them better, as in “see what nobody else noticed, giving him an unfair advantage.” Some advantage: he and his associate, Cheng Yin Sun, won $9.6 million at baccarat over four visits to the casino, then won an additional $504,000 betting their winning at the  craps table.

A federal judge has now ruled that the two must repay the $10 million. What they did is called “edge-sorting,” and it is considered cheating, though technically the ruling was that Ivey and Sun breached their contract with the casino.

In baccarat, players bet on the relative value of two hands of two cards each before the hands are dealt or the cards are revealed. The game is  played with six or eight decks of cards placed into a dealing “shoe,” and the object is to bet on the hand that will have a total value closest to nine. If a player knows the value of the first card in the shoe before it’s dealt, the player has a significant advantage over the house. Borgata accused Ivey and Sun of exploiting defects in playing cards manufactured by Gemaco Inc. that were not cut symmetrically during the manufacturing process, so Ivey and Sun were able to spot the manufacturing defects and  read the “marked”  cards without actually touching or defacing them themselves. The New Jersey Casino Controls Act requires that all casino games offer “fair odds to both sides.”  Without intending to or knowing, the casino was creating unfair odds against itself, and these two players made out like bandits as a result.

Ivey’s lawyer argued in a court filing that since his client never touched the cards, his advantage was like the casino trying to distract players with “free alcohol served by only the most curvaceous and voluptuous females in the industry.” Continue reading

The Political Correctness Snake Swallows Its Tale On The Yellow Brick Road

Looks like genocide to me!

Looks like genocide to me!

 The runner-up for the title of this post was “Consistency In Stupidity Is Not A Virtue”

Much as I enjoy seeing political correctness bullies turn on each other, the controversy over the new casino in Chittenango, New York is a nauseating mix of censorious meddling, hindsight bias and ignorance.

Not that the Oneida Indian Nation doesn’t deserve to be a victim of exactly the kind of harassment it is best known for inflicting on others. For this is the tribe that has sought publicity and skin in the victim-mongering power game by claiming that the Washington D.C. pro football team, whose name only means “the Washington D.C. pro-football team”  and that was never intended as a slur—and that nobody who isn’t looking to be offended takes as one—-should be forced to abandon its logo, mascot, team song and identity, at a cost of millions of dollars, as a pointless sacrifice on the altar of political correctness. I am speaking, of course, of the Washington Redskins, a business and sports enterprise which, in a free country, can call itself anything its owner chooses. Since it is a free country, those who are offended by its name, or, as is really the case, have chosen to claim offense for political gain, can address their own hyper-sensitivity by following another team, another sport, or the Yellow Brick Road.

Which reminds me… Continue reading

Greyhound Racing Is Dying. Good.

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The Washington Post informs us that greyhound racing, a  once popular form of gambling that as recently as 1991 brought in $3.5 billion and was operated at more than 50 tracks in 15 states, is in freefall and headed to oblivion. Betting on the dogs netted only $665 million in 2012, and just 21 tracks remain in seven states, with some of them already on borrowed time. Any decline in state sanctioned gambling is good news (yes, I am shedding no tears over the closing of one casino after another in Atlantic City, even the ones not owed by Donald Trump), but dog racing was always a particularly unsavory and unethical breed of the malady. Good riddance. The sooner that last greyhound has chased his last mechanical rabbit, the better off we are.

I have a bias here, it is true. My uncle, the youngest brother of my mom, was addicted to dog racing in Massachusetts, where the “sport” was banned in 2010, but not in time to save Uncle Charlie. He had a wife and two sons, and worked hard as a truck driver, but threw away an unconscionable percentage of his limited resources betting on racing canines. Maybe he would have crippled his prospects and harmed his family by finding other ways to waste his money if there had been no greyhound racing; probably he would have. Nevertheless, it was this corrupt, ugly, stupid gambling industry that wrecked his life. I hate it.

Dog racing was initially linked to allowing slot machines, another evil beast, to become legal, as little by little—first lotteries, then casinos—the states abandoned their ethical duties to embrace the cheap income that could be made by enticing the poor and the stupid to blow their paychecks on false hopes of a big jackpot. One they were hooked on the instant gratification of video poker and credit card one-armed bandits, however, greyhound racing became too slow a method of losing money. “It’ll take you half an hour to lose $50 at a racetrack. You can do it in five minutes sitting in front of a slot machine, ” said an insider interviewed by the Washington Post. This is called progress. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: If the Casino Makes It Too Easy To Win, Are You Obligated Not To?

The mini-baccarat game at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City became awfully profitable one night in April, because the company that was contractually obligated to supply the casino with decks of pre-shuffled cards inexplicably did not. Once the alert gamblers noticed that they were being dealt the same sequence of cards repeatedly from unshuffled decks, they started raising their bets.  After forty-one consecutive winning hands, fourteen players had won more than $1.5 million. Puzzled but dim casino security had been watching them to see how they were cheating, but couldn’t figure it out.

No surprise: the casino is suing the card supplier. That’s not all, however: it is also suing the gamblers for their winnings, citing New Jersey regulations that require  all casino games to offer “fair odds to both sides.”  The casino’s lawsuit claims that once the gamblers realized that the unshuffled cards tilted the odds in their favor, they were obligated by law to stop playing and winning.

Your Ethics Quiz for today: Is that a fair position? Was it unethical for the gamblers to take advantage of the casino’s card problem? Continue reading

Pennsylvania’s and Delaware’s Disgrace: Risking the Poor to Balance the Budgets

Delaware and Pennsylvania, facing state budget deficits that would require political courage and citizen sacrifice to address, has taken the craven route of other states (with more sure to follow) by legalizing casino gambling.

In Pennsylvania, State Republicans, the majority party in the state senate, had opposed the expansion of gambling , but capitulated when faced with the reality of having to choose between cutting jobs and services or raising taxes. Instead, the Republicans joined with Democrats, those champions of the weak and powerless,  to victimize the poorest people in the state for profit. Continue reading

The Casinos and the Whale

Japanese tycoon Terrance Watanabe gambled away nearly $127 million at the Caesar’s Palace and Rio casinos in 2007, and now is suing the casinos even as he faces criminal charges for refusing to pay them over $15 million in additional debts. He claims that the gambling establishments allowed him to gamble while intoxicated in violation of state casino regulations, and otherwise share blame for his outlandish losses, believed to be the most any gambler has amassed in a single year. Continue reading