Phil Ivey is more than just one of the most recognizable names from the world of high stakes poker.
In fact, his New Jersey roots and recent legal battle with the State’s largest and most successful casino property make him one of New Jersey’s most notorious gamblers.
From nickels to the nosebleeds
With more than $23 million in recorded live poker tournament earnings, millions more online, and a reputation as one of the toughest competitors in the highest stakes cash games around the world both online and off, Ivey is widely regarded as one of the best poker players on the planet. However, his career got started in the poker rooms of Atlantic City, NJ using a fake ID years before he was legally allowed to play.
Born in Riverside, California, Ivey reportedly moved to Roselle, New Jersey, when he was just three months old. Legend has it that Ivey was taught how to play poker by his Grandfather when he was just eight years old.
They apparently played for nickels, but by the time he was a teenager, Ivey had graduated to playing in Atlantic City casinos for real dollars using a fake ID under the name of Jerome Graham.
He reportedly split time earning a paycheck at a local telemarketing firm and traveling by bus to Atlantic City to play cards. But soon he would be found spending so much time inside Atlantic City card rooms the people there began calling him “No Home Jerome.”
Add in the fact Ivey admittedly missed the bus home so often he was forced to spend more than just a few nights sleeping under the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, and it was a nickname that stuck.
Rumor has it that the day he actually turned 21, Ivey walked into one of the many Atlantic City casinos were he was a regular, showed his real ID and simply asked that people start calling him Phil.
Already a seasoned cash game veteran, tournament success came quickly as the poker boom began and Ivey won his first World Series of Poker bracelet in a $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha event at the 2000 WSOP, defeating none other than legendary pro Amarillo Slim Preston to earn the title and $195,000.
Two years later he won three WSOP bracelets in the same year and was fast on his way to becoming recognized as one of the best poker players in the world.
In 2014, Ivey won his tenth WSOP bracelet, tying him with legends Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan for second on the all time list, trailing only Phil Hellmuth and his 14 bracelets. However, Ivey hasn’t made much of an effort to catch Hellmuth of late, reportedly spending the past few WSOP’s playing in the biggest cash games around the world instead.
Multimillion dollar Baccarat lawsuits
While creating one of the most impressive resumes in the world of high stakes poker over the past two decades, Ivey has also built himself a reputation as quite the gambler, flying a private jet to some of the world’s most opulent casinos where he’s been welcomed with open arms to participate in private high stakes Craps games and Baccarat sessions.
In fact, the latter of the two not only brought Ivey back to New Jersey, but has kept him in the courtroom as much as the poker room over the past two years.
In April 2012, after negotiating comps and favorable conditions for a baccarat session at the Borgata Hotel & Casino in New Jersey, including allowing a colleague named Cheng Yin Sun to sit with him, and that only one deck of purple Gemaco Borgata cards and an automatic shuffler be used, Ivey hit the casino for $2.4 million.
He came back in May, July and October and increased his maximum bet, winning $9.6 million total by the time he was through. That same year, Ivey also flew across the pond and negotiated similar terms for a similar game, winning £7.7 million playing Punto Banco at Crockfords Casino in London, England. However, Crockfords refused to let Ivey leave the property with his winnings.
Ultimately he filed suit against the casino in an attempt to collect, but before anything could be settled, Borgata got wind of the issue and decided to sue to try and reclaim what Ivey and Sun had won there.
In turned out that a flaw in the manufacturing of the purple Gemaco cards Ivey asked that they use was helping him win. The cards weren’t constructed symmetrically, and Sun was able to determine that certain valued cards had more of the geometrical pattern on the back than others. It’s a technique that has come to be known as Edge Sorting.
Ivey has been unable to collect anything from Crockfords, with his latest appeal of a 2014 judgment in favor of Crockfords being upheld by a three-judge Court of Appeal of England and Wales panel.
The court ultimately decided that even though Ivey was not being dishonest in his implementation of the edge sorting technique, United Kingdom gambling laws still consider it a violation of the legal rules of the game.
Back in New Jersey, a federal judge ruled in December 2016 that Ivey and Sun must repay $10.1 million they won at Borgata in 2012, including $504,000 Ivey won at Craps using his Baccarat winnings.
Ivey has maintained the Borgata agreed to the conditions of play and his lawyer says he simply beat the casino at it’s own game. That aside, due to his roots in the Garden State and the latest high-stakes legal wrangling, Ivey has cemented his status as one of New Jersey’s most notorious gamblers.
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