Borgata Garnishes Phil Ivey’s WSOP Check, Continues RICO Claim

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It has been seven years since Phil Ivey and a partner pulled off a remarkable scheme to win $10 mm from the Borgata casino in Atlantic City — and Borgata is still chasing its money, as well as its revenge.

As far as the money, Borgata officials got a writ of execution from the state of Nevada served by the U.S. Marshal’s office on Caesars regarding Ivey’s winnings in the 2019 World Series of Poker.

“Please be advised that I represent Marina District Development Co., LLC (“Borgata”) with respect to Borgata’s case again Philip Ivey and Cheung Yin Sun,” writes attorney Jeremy Klausner. “You may recall that we obtained a judgment against Ivey and Sun for $10.1 mm as a result of the baccarat edge sorting…. Please ensure that Caesars/Rio/WSOP does not make any payments to Mr. Ivey in violation of the duly served writ. When the current event is over, we or the U.S. Marshal will provide instructions for payment.”

That led to Ivey’s winnings of $124,410 becoming a check made out to “Philip D. Ivey Jr. c/o United States Marshals Service.”

In other words, it looks like at this point, Ivey won’t be making money playing poker in official events in the U.S. unless and until he wins his appeal.

Is Phil Ivey a racketeer? Borgata says ‘yes’

Meanwhile, over in the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Borgata recently reasserted its claims against Ivey and partner Cheng Yin Sun, who targeted Borgata’s MGM owners in her own bit of revenge.

The simpler goal by Borgata is that the casino receives a refund for the $250k worth of “comps” enjoyed by Ivey and Sun during four visits to Borgata seven years ago. An earlier ruling denied the casino that money.

“Without their inclusion in the parties’ agreement, Ivey and Sun would have needed to pay for the goods and services they enjoyed,” according to Borgata’s filing. “Thus to provide full restitution to Borgata, Ivey and Sun must also return the value of the comps. The District Court erred in not including that amount in its damages award. Ivey and Sun advance no response to this argument.”

The second legal effort in the Third Circuit filing would reinstate Borgata’s “RICO” racketeering claims against Ivey and Sun. While RICO brings to mind mobsters, Borgata attorneys lay out a complex argument that it also applies to the duo — who exploited Sun’s unique ability to detect tiny imperfections on the backs of mini-baccarat playing cards into “easy money.”

A U.S. District Court judge had found that what Ivey and Sun did — including coaxing dealers into orienting the cards in such a way that later helped them figure out how favorable the first card in each game was — did not constitute fraud (no criminal charges were ever filed). Instead, it was found that Ivey and Sun basically violated state regulations on “fair play” — which players and the house must honor.

Borgata attorneys argue here that the absence of fraud doesn’t “doom” the RICO charges at all.

“Ivey and Sun’s own authority explains that the New Jersey Supreme Court had adopted a broader interpretation of ‘enterprise’ in NJRICO than in the federal analogue, in view of the liberal construction that must be given to NJRICO,” Klausner wrote in the filing. “The drafters intended New Jersey RICO to encompass more than traditional organized-crime families.”

“Each defendant was merely part of, and not an alter ego of, the association-in-fact because individually they could not have executed the unlawful scheme. Only by combining their efforts into a joint enterprise were they able to carry their scam.

“Without Ivey’s reputation as a world-renowned poker player, the two could not have acquired the favorable gaming terms, including the high-stakes betting limits, that enabled them, to ‘win’ millions. And without Sun’s edge-sorting skills and fluency in Mandarin, they could not have succeeded in their plan… They shared the spoils of their enterprise, which neither Ivey nor Sun could have obtained alone. It is this division of labor that is a hallmark of a RICO enterprise.”

Borgata’s motive?

Maybe, but why is Borgata still going down this path, already having won its $10 mm back at the U.S. District Court level? (Although it is not considered a certainty by any means that Borgata will survive Ivey’s appeal.)

It might help to review what happened here. Ivey, a world-renowned poker player, contacts Borgata seeking to play mini-baccarat — a game of luck, frankly — for up to $50k a hand.

Oh, he also wants his own private room, to have Sun accompany him, a specific brand and color of playing cards, dealers who speak fluent Mandarin, and so on. Then Ivey — an African-American man from New Jersey — supposedly is as superstitious as Sun in a way mostly seen in Asian culture.

Ivey comes back a second time, and cleans the casino out again. For his third trip — and his fourth — he asks and receives approval to bet up to $100k a hand. Only after word breaks that Ivey and Sun had been accused of a similar scheme at a London casino did Borgata finally wise up.

Bruised egos? Borgata executives wouldn’t be human if they didn’t have them.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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