Borgata Casino in Atlantic City has sued a winning gambler. But no one contends the gambler cheated or colluded in any way. He merely asked the casino to agree to certain ground rules in advance, and the casino did so. Those ground rules enabled to gambler to win big, and the casino is a sore loser.
So when the pair specified certain conditions, the casinos always obliged. In this case, as recounted in court documents, the conditions they asked for were “(1) a private area or ‘pit’ in which to play; (2) a casino dealer who spoke Mandarin Chinese; (3) a guest [Sun] to sit with him at the table while he played; (4) one 8-deck shoe of purple Gemaco Borgata playing cards to be used for the entirety of each session of play; and (5) an automatic card shuffling device to be used to shuffle the cards after each shoe was dealt, which retained the orientation of each card that Sun requested to be turned.” Again, these conditions might have tipped off a counterparty knowledgeable about gambling (like a casino!) that something was up. But again, Borgata agreed to everything.
They did not agree out of the goodness of their hearts. Casinos love to indulge high-rollers because they know that the longer a player spends at the table, the more money he will lose. So they allowed the requests, and thereby exposed themselves to Ivey and Sun’s advantage: the cards in question had a minute flaw. It was just a 1/32 of an inch deviation in the pattern on the back, but Sun had trained herself to spot the tiny variation. By getting the dealer to rotate certain cards before adding them back into the deck, she and Ivey could more accurately figure out which way to bet the next time around.
The practice, known as “edge sorting,” did not violate any of the rules of baccarat, nor did it conflict with the terms agreed upon by the casino and the gamblers. Nevertheless, Borgata cried foul and sued, claiming Ivey and Sun “knowingly engaged in a scheme to create a set of marked cards and then used those marked cards to place bets based on the markings.”
The gambler did not create the flaw in the cards, and these are the same cards routinely used by the casino.
The casino’s agreement to the requested rules reminds me of a Sky Masterson line from “Guys and Dolls.” Masterson was recounting advice received from his father:
One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you’re going to wind up with an ear full of cider.
For sure the casino has cider in its ear. But unlike the casino, Masterson paid his debt.