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What Happens If You Cheat In A Casino? Who Says It Is Dishonest?

View profile for John Ellwood
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The highest court in the land - namely the Supreme Court - has made a landmark decision on what many would regard as a strange set of circumstances says John Ellwood, a Partner at our North east firm.

Until relatively recently any form of gambling was according to the law an unlawful act and as a result bookmakers, casinos etc; could not sue you for the money you had lost and similarly you could not sue them for your winnings.  No casino or bookmaker however would last very long in modern society if they did not pay up on your winnings.  However this all changed and now in licensed casinos a gambling debt either way is a binding contract.  In order to make it legitimate however the legislation requires that neither party cheats.

The leading case now is Ivey v Genting Casinos UK Limited. 

In that case a professional gambler was held to have cheated.  How he did this was rather complicated. 

Casinos pander to big gamblers.  People are naturally superstitious and gamblers in casinos are no different.  They like to sit in particular lucky chairs or sometimes like to use what they regard as lucky packs of cards or sometimes they like a particular dealer who brings them luck.  The gambler in this case knew about this and the plan was to persuade the casino to use the same pack of cards over and over again.  He also told the dealer that where there was a lucky card he wanted to go back into the pack the same way up it had come out.  The reason he did this is because although the playing cards are manufactured so as to present a uniform appearance on the back some of the back of cards are not exactly uniformed.  Generally cards for social use have an obvious top and bottom for example the manufacturers name may be printed once only or the pattern may have an obviously right way up. 

Cards used in casinos are not like this and are intended to be indistinguishable on the backs from one another. 

However if you are careful you can identify that sometimes the manufacturers process causes tiny differences to appear on the edge of the cards.  So the end of one long side is marginally different from the edge of the other.   Again, careful gamblers can carry out what is called edge sorting and that enables them to identify certain cards. 

In a complicated gambling game called 'Punto Banco' this gives a gambler an edge. 

So this particular gambler by claiming to be superstitious persuaded the dealer to use the same pack over and over again and to place his lucky cards the same way up as they had been delivered to him when he had done well in previous games.    Incredibly he won £7.7m.  The casino refused to pay and claimed that he had cheated.  He admitted that he had used edge sorting and he admitted that he had set the casino up to do this.  He was genuinely convinced that what he had done was not cheating but the court found that it was cheating.  I suppose the basis for this is that it was a game of chance and he had altered the chances. 

The importance of the case is twofold.  Firstly the court decided that you can cheat without being dishonest.  The court could have left the case at that but secondly it decided to change the law as to what amounts to dishonesty.   This is a landmark decision therefore about dishonesty.  We now move into an area of law which is impenetrably complicated.  Many criminal offences require that the prosecution proves that a defendant was dishonest.  Previously the test as to whether a person was dishonest required the court to investigate what the defendant actually thought about what he was doing.  So, even if an ordinary person in his position would have realised he was being dishonest he had a defence if he could persuade the court or rather if the prosecution could not persuade the court that he knew it was dishonest.  The law is now clear.  The court has to carry out a fact finding investigation as to what he knew was going on and then instead of applying his own standards the court would apply the conduct of an honest ordinary decent person.  Although the Supreme Court claimed that they were merely clarifying the law about dishonestly I do not think they were.  I think they were changing the law.

I am often called upon to represent businesses either through their individuals or through the business itself for regulatory offences. 

By that I do not mean that it is alleged they have committed what ordinary people would regard as crimes like theft or burglary but instead have breached regulations for example those relating to copyright, bribery or offences under the Money Laundering Regulations.  In many cases the prosecution has to prove dishonesty. It is essential in this changing area of law to instruct a solicitor experienced in this field who knows of the above complications.

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