What amounts to cheating?

Posted: 26th October 2017

CardsDoes the concept of ‘cheating’ necessarily involve an element of dishonesty?

The Supreme Court tackled that thorny issue in finding that professional card player, Phil Ivey, who won £7.7 million in a casino was not entitled to his winnings.

The man was playing punto banco – a variant of baccarat that is normally a game of pure chance, involving no skill – when he won the money over a two-day period.

He freely admitted that he had used a technique known as edge sorting to turn the odds in his favour but argued it was a legitimate advantage. This involved persuading the croupier to handle cards in a particular manner and the sharp-eyed exploitation of tiny differences in the design on the back of cards before they were dealt from the shoe.

The casino refused to pay him his winnings on the basis that the game had been compromised, and his breach of contract claim in respect of the money was rejected by the High Court and, subsequently, by the Court of Appeal.

In unanimously dismissing his appeal against the latter ruling, the Supreme Court noted that it was common ground that there was an implied term in the contract that neither the player, nor the casino, would cheat.

What amounts to cheating was a jury question and it was unwise to attempt a definition. It did not necessarily require dishonesty and essentially involved a deliberate act to gain an advantage in a game which is objectively improper, given the rules of the game in question.

Mr Ivey had perpetrated a carefully planned and executed sting and there could be no doubt that, had he secretly gained access to the shoe and personally rearranged the cards, he would have been considered a cheat.

He had accomplished the same result by tricking the croupier and had taken positive steps to fix the deck in a way that clearly amounted to cheating. The Court found that, if cheating at gambling required an element of dishonesty, that test would have been satisfied on the particular facts of the case.

This case has led the Supreme Court to legal conclusions that go far beyond the intricacies of card games and will have a profound impact on criminal cases in England and Wales that revolve around whether someone acted dishonestly.