Inside the Borgata v. Phil Ivey Depositions
Welcome to a special feature here at FlushDraw, a closer look at the ongoing “edge sorting” case pitting the Borgata’s parent company, Marina District Development Co., LLC, against prominent American poker pro Phil Ivey and others over Ivey’s $9.626 million combined win at the Borgata’s mini-baccarat tables over the span of four 2012 visits.
In this piece, we’ll dig deeper into extracts from depositions in the case that were taken from co-defendants Ivey and Cheng Yin Sun in March of 2015. Sun was Ivey’s sharp-eyed partner in the complex “advantage play” scheme which tilted the odds at the Borgata’s mini-baccarat tables in Ivey’s favor. The Borgata has continued to allege that Ivey and Sun’s manipulations constituted cheating under New Jersey gaming law, even though the casino attempted to interest both New Jersey’s gaming officials and the New Jersey state police into taking legal action against Ivey and Sun. Neither of those agencies chose to do so after reviewing the evidence.
Recently, the Borgata and its legal counsel filed a motion to dismiss a counterclaim filed by Ivey and Sun this past July. In filing its counterclaim, the Borgata made public excerpts of case depositions taken from Ivey and Sun this past March in connection with its original case. The deposition of “Kelly” Sun, took place on March 25th, 2015; the deposition of Ivey took place on March 26th, 2015, the following day.
A handful of facts from the depositions have already emerged in various media reports, both at FlushDraw and elsewhere. However, the sheer volume of the excerpts, which combined run to roughly 90 pages, ensures that several newsworthy nuggets surrounding the case have yet to be reported. This feature catches up on some of this formerly sealed information.
In publishing this collection of backstory items, FlushDraw notes two qualifiers that the reader should also keep in mind. First, the information is taken from excerpts of the Ivey and Sun depositions as cherry-picked for the Borgata’s counterclaim-defense purposes by its counsel, Jeremy Klausner of the New Jersey firm Agostino & Associates, P.C. As such, these excerpts tend to show only those acknowledged facts and statements of the case that are presumed beneficial in some way to the Borgata’s claims.
Second, much of the background information in the case remains under court seal, in particular the reports generated by the Borgata’s attempt to involve the New Jersey State Police in the matter and that enforcement agency’s apparent and presumed decision to not get involved or press charges, at least to date.
Nonetheless, several newsworthy items connected to the case have now been made public. Here’s a selection of new information, as gleaned from the Ivey and Sun depositions:
1) Cheng Yin Sun had a backer for her role in the Ivey edge-sorting ploy, and it appears that any profits or proceeds from the pair’s visits to various casinos were to be split 50-50.
Regarding the withholding of a large win by the Ivey-Sun team at London’s Crockfords Casino, which resulted in a separate case, Sun stated, “Well, the next day Phil showed me that Foxwoods wired money to him, 7.7 million, but he didn’t — he showed me the receipt but then he didn’t give me money, so I was pretty — I was mad. So — well, because I — you know, I asked Eddie to call him because I always thought that he pocket all the [Crockfords] money, and Eddie said the same thing, that he took the money.”
Later, Sun stated, “Well, and then he told me that — later he told me he didn’t get the money but I always — I didn’t believe him, but two months later when I saw the news — so, you know, I believe what he said.”
Ivey was involved with protracted legal discussions with Crockfords in which Crockfords refunded Ivey’s initial stake but refused to pay him his “winnings” from a September 2012 session at the casino’s punto banco (mini-baccarat) tables. Though Ivey’s lawsuit against Crockfords did not become public knowledge until May of 2013, it was filed in October of 2012, and it’s possible that Crockfords leaked something about the case through the casino-security world, for the matter appears to have been brought up Borgata officials as Ivey and Sun’s last visit there (at the same time, October of 2012), was abruptly terminated.
“Eddie” turns out to be a Georgia-native gambler by the name of Edward Teems, as confirmed by Ivey in his deposition. Ivey also appears to have explained at least some of the story about how he, Teems, and “Kelly” Sun came together to form an edge-sorting partnership, but that part of it was not included in the Borgata’s recent deposition extract. Teems does have a decade-long track record of major poker-tourney appearances and cashes, with over $180,000 in official poker-tourney cashes to his name. In his depositions, Ivey stated that he met Sun in 2012 through his previous association with Teems, upon which the pair began their edge-sorting trips to casinos literally around the world.
2) Sun began practicing her sharp-eyed “edge sorting” skills at a very young age. She first used those skilss at blackjack, and then at mini-baccarat.
Sun testified that she began learning how to edge-sort cards at age 14 beginning when she snuck into a Hong Kong casino to play blackjack. Sun stated, somewhat in contradiction, that she later learned the principles of edge sorting from watching others play blackjack at Las Vegas’s Paris Station casino, whereupon she went home and taught herself the method.
Stated Sun, “Well, because when I was in Las Vegas and I saw that they won almost every hand and I saw them — they’re using this kind of technique, so — and I went home and practiced myself.” Sun eventually employed the edge-sorting method at mini-baccarat beginning in 2011, using the name of another, unidentified, woman for cover.
Sun also stated that she used the edge-sorting method herself at blackjack tables at both Paris Station and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, though Caesars eventually barred her from the tables (whether for advantage play or for being underaged isn’t specified). Sun later testified that “about half of them [Vegas casinos] still let me play.”
3) Both Sun and Ivey admitted to employing the edge-sorting scheme in other casinos.
Sun, for whom English is not a fluent language, struggled repeatedly with the specific form of questions asked during her deposition, using an interpreter throughout. In response to a question by Borgata’s Klausner as to other casinos in which she had used the “card turning” (edge sorting) ploy, her and Ivey’s counsel, Edwin Jacobs, objected and referred to an earlier interrogatory that nonetheless answered that question.
As Jacobs relayed, “… we provided information on this very topic limited to Crown Casino in Australia, somewhere in Las Vegas, Gentings, Borgata, and in the case of this deponent [Sun] only, Foxwoods… .” Elsewhere, Sun acknowledged that she was also under a limited ban at the Venetian for helping another player during a blackjack tournament.
Ivey, for his part, has been identified as an advantage player at various casinos, including the aforementioned Crown (in Australia) and the Venetian. Said Ivey, within his own deposition, “Some casinos don’t [welcome advantage players] but some casinos allow you to play. Like the Venetian and the Crown, they still allow me to play. They just tighten up their game.” Ivey, though, did not detail whether he had been banned from the baccarat tables in specific other casinos, at least in the excerpts published to date.
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The twin depositions included plenty of other statements of note, such as Ivey’s assertions that the Borgata and other casinos would do anything reasonable to keep whales such as him happy. As previously reported, Ivey also elaborated on the extracurricular inducements to gamble that the Borgata and other casinos provided, from scantily-clad waitresses to free food and drink placed just feet away from the tables.
One interesting outtake from Sun’s deposition reveals that Ivey and Sun did not dissuade casino staff from thinking Sun was there for reasons other than gambling, and may even have done a bit of role-playing with that in mind. This excerpt from Sun’s deposition stands out:
Klausner, representing the Borgata: Were you his guest, or were you his teammate, or were you something else?
Sun: Phil never really specified that because when we were in London and they thought Phil found a Chinese hooker but — you know.
Jacobs (Sun’s attorney): Does that clear it up?
Klausner: No, but it was entertaining nonetheless.
The body of the deposition excerpts makes it clear that the edge-sorting scheme was itself multi-faceted, with both Ivey and Sun both fully aware that the Borgata or other casinos would have stopped the granting of the special conditions connected to Ivey’s mini-baccarat sessions had they understood the true impact of Sun’s “good card,” “bad card” requests. How that plays out in the context of the greater case, however, still remains to be seen.