The New Jersey Senate passed a bill on Thursday designed to keep billionaire investor Carl Icahn from re-opening the Trump Taj Mahal for five years. The bill, S2575, was affirmed by a vote of 29 to 6 (with 5 not voting) and would amend the portion of the state law that details how someone could be disqualified from acquiring a casino license in the state.
The Trump Taj Mahal closed on October 10th after 26 years in operation. Since February, it has been owned by Carl Icahn and his, company, Icahn Enterprises. Trump Entertainment Resorts, the previous owner of the casino (and now a subsidiary of Icahn Enterprises), went into bankruptcy in September 2014; Icahn, its largest debt-holder, agreed to take it over when it came out of bankruptcy in February.
During the bankruptcy proceedings, the Unite Here Local 54 union lost its healthcare and pension benefits. After unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with Icahn to regain their benefits, more than 1,000 Trump Taj Mahal workers went on strike in early July. A month later, Tropicana Entertainment, which operates the casino, announced that the casino would close, citing profitability issues stemming from the strike.
There has been some thought that Icahn might try to re-open the Trump Taj Mahal at some point on his own terms, skirting the union in the process, and this bill aims to prevent that. The amendment reads:
Notwithstanding the provisions of any law, rule, or regulation to the contrary, the substantial closure of a casino hotel facility by the licensee occurring on or after January 1, 2016 shall disqualify the licensee from continuing to hold that license and shall constitute sufficient cause for revocation of that license, except that such substantial closure shall not impact any other pre-existing casino license held by the licensee. The division shall determine what constitutes a substantial closure of a casino hotel facility pursuant to this section.
The disqualification would be in effect for five years.
Democratic Senate president Steve Sweeney, the sponsor of the bill, told the Associated Press, “Casino owners shouldn’t be manipulating the system and exploiting bankruptcy laws as a way to break unions and take away the rights and benefits of the workers. Atlantic City’s gaming industry is obviously experiencing the difficult challenges of competition from other states, but the answer is not to engage in practices that punish the workers.”
Tropicana Entertainment president Tony Rodio, who has served as Icahn’s mouthpiece during the labor ordeal, believes the bill could scare off other companies who may want to open for business in Atlantic City:
I don’t see any reason for anyone to want to invest in the casino industry in Atlantic City given this adversarial investment climate being created by some leaders of our state Legislature, the same ones who are supporting the North Jersey gaming referendum that will certainly result in the closure of many more Atlantic City casinos and future disqualification of their present owners under this bad legislation. It also raises serious questions why anyone would want to invest in the State of New Jersey at all if the State legislature moves forward with this business, job and growth killing legislation.
The bill still has to go the state Assembly. According to the AP, Governor Chris Christie would likely veto the bill should it get to his desk.
It is hard for me to believe that we are just slightly over two months away from 2017. Save for a change in digit, I probably say something to that effect every year, but I don’t know – this year has seemed to just whiz by for me. And when this year ends, so will the European Poker Tour, as 2017 will mark the first year of the PokerStars Championship and PokerStars Festival tours and the elimination of the EPT brand. What I’m saying is enjoy the EPT while it’s still here.
Yesterday, the second-to-last EPT Main Event got underway with the first of two starting flights of EPT Malta at Casino Portomaso. It is a close race for the chip lead; Dan Shak just outpaced Pasi Sormunen, 185,100 to 183,500.
The story of the first day may have been Ireland’s Mahmood Rasheed, who was involved in a number of made-for-TV hands early. I’m talking nut-bar hands that we would all groan at if we saw them play out in a movie. The first hand came during Level 1. According to PokerNews, the board showed 7-8-K-3-K and there were 13,000 chips in the pot. Stephan Zesiger bet half of his stack, 11,000 chips, and Rasheed called after about a minute of thought. Zesiger turned over pocket Threes for a full house, rightfully thinking he had the best hand, but then Rasheed revealed pocket Eights for a better boat. Zesiger was confused as to why Rasheed was so cautious – after all, most players would have raised with that hand or at least not thought about it so long before calling. Rasheed said that he was nervous that Zesiger may have slow-played Kings.
At the beginning of Level 2 with a board of K-7-2-Q, Orpen Kisacikoglu bet 1,500 and was called by Florin Minea. Rasheed, in the dealer’s position, raised to 3,500 and was called in both spots. Another Queen landed on the river and Rasheed bet 10,000 after his opponents checked to him. That got Kisacikoglu and Minea out of the hand, likely to Rasheed’s dismay, as he had pocket Queens for quads.
Then, not long after that, Rasheed was on the opposite end of a monster hand. Five players saw a flop of 9-7-4 and Rasheed bet 1,750 chips. Martin Kozlov raised to 4,800 and everyone else folded by Rasheed, who called. Rasheed checked the 5 on the turn, Kozlov bet 7,500, and Rasheed raised it way up to 35,000. Kozlov decided it was time to go for it, so he called off the rest of his chips. He was in great shape, holding pocket Nines for top set, while Rasheed had Jacks for an overpair to the board. Rasheed was unable to improve on the river and, in fact, lost even “bigger,” if that’s a thing, as Kozlov hit another Nine for quads.
After all that, Rasheed did not survive to Day 2, getting knocked out before dinner.
61 players did make it through to Day 2, though, of the original 134 who bought-in to Day 1A. Another group is at it today to try to join those 61 in action tomorrow.
2016 European Poker Tour Malta Main Event – Day 1A Chip Leaders
1. Dan Shak – 185,100
2. Pasi Sormunen – 183,600
3. Alex Brand – 163,300
4. Frederik Jensen – 147,800
5. Ole Schemion – 147,500
6. Guillaume Valle – 143,200
7. Thomas Mjeldheim – 139,700
8. Dmitry Yurasov – 126,500
9. Aliaksei Boika – 125,100
10. Bart Maes – 119,500
While it looked like a longshot at the beginning of the year, the proposed movie version of Molly’s Game – the memoir penned by “The Poker Princess” Molly Bloom back in 2014 – is gaining speed towards fruition. The movie, to be the directorial debut of screenwriter extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin, has recently added a couple of new cast members and there is a set date to begin filming next month.
While the cast already includes Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain starring as Bloom and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba in the role of her attorney, there was the obvious lack of a true old style “star power” for the film. That seems to have been filled by Academy Award winner Kevin Costner, who is allegedly in talks to take on the role of Bloom’s father in the production. Currently there hasn’t been a firm announcement that the contract has been signed, but it is expected to be a mere formality.
Costner has been one of the United States’ greatest male actors, earning his stripes in such beloved films as Silverado, American Flyers, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and The Untouchables. That was but the start of his career, however, as 1990 saw him win two Oscars (for Best Picture and Best Director, plus a nomination for Best Actor), for his starring role in Dancing with Wolves. Since then, Costner has starred in Oliver Stone’s JFK, the comedy Tin Cup and won an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 2012 for his Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries performance as William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield in the History Channel miniseries Hatfields & McCoys.
Another name that has been attached to Molly’s Game might not be as readily known to fans, but he brings his own outstanding list of credentials to the show. Brian d’Arcy James, who has been working his way into the Tinseltown setting through his work in the 2015 Spotlight (winner of the Academy Award), is set to appear in Molly’s Game, although the exact role d’Arcy James will play isn’t known. Prior to his work in Spotlight, d’Arcy James had made his mark in another sector of the entertainment industry.
He is a Tony Award nominated performer for the musical Something Rotten! and is currently appearing on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Molly’s Game will only be one six different films that d’Arcy James will be a part of in 2017, including the story of Watergate’s “Deep Throat” in the film Felt.
What isn’t known is just how much of Bloom’s book will be making it into the film. Originally thought to be the earth-shattering expose of the celebrity underground poker world, Bloom instead wrote a completely different story. In her book, Bloom told a story of her journey from a potential Olympic skier to a runner for a gambler to running her own games in both Los Angeles and New York that were attended by celebrities such as actors Ben Affleck and Tobey Maguire, Hollywood directors and executives, billionaire businessmen and other elites. Instead of the scathing story of “who did what,” however, Bloom kept the juicier stories to herself and instead delved into her own background in organizing the games and offered her own personal “navel gazing” as to why she was working in the industry.
It is expected that Sorkin is going to follow much of this same line. In interviews he has given, Sorkin has stated the movie is a “journey of discovery” and that he will not be dropping famous names into the story for “shock value.” The writing of the screenplay (by Sorkin) is supposed to use Elba’s attorney character as the mechanism to get “Bloom” (Chastain) to tell her story to him.
It has also been a lengthy journey for Molly’s Game to reach this point. Originally then-Sony Productions chairman Amy Pascal wanted Sorkin to work on another film, but Sorkin used his ample influence (and his work in such films as The Social Network and A Few Good Men and his television work on The West Wing) to push for the Bloom book adaptation. It also didn’t hurt that Pascal resigned in 2014 after North Korean e-mail hacks revealed embarrassing statements made by Pascal about Sorkin (and other people) during the negotiations.
As the cast continues to slowly leak out, it is expected that production will begin sometime before the end of the year. As of this time, there is no outlet set to release the film, but Sony is considered a frontrunner because of Sorkin’s previous work with the company.
With one week left in the season, the seats are being grabbed by teams for the Global Poker League’s inaugural Championship Playoff. In one conference, there is only one slot left to be filled while, in the other conference, literally everyone is still alive.
In the GPL Americas, two of the playoff seats had been grabbed earlier this month. The Montreal Nationals, who have been at or near the top of the standings throughout the season, grabbed one of the playoff spots. With a good showing in the final week the Nationals can seize the #1 seed in the playoffs, but it will take some work to hold off a team that truly has been their nemesis.
The L. A. Sunset clinched their playoff slot at the same time as the Nationals and have been hanging around looking for a chance to catch up with them. Only 11 points back, the squad led by manager Maria Ho needs to have a huge showing in the final week’s action and hope that they see the Nationals fade a bit. The Sunset also have the added impetus of trying to hold onto their #2 seed in the playoffs as a stunner clinched their playoff spot just last week.
With a blistering performance from Joao Peres Simao, winning two of three heads up matches against the Nationals’ Jason Lavallee, the Sao Paulo Metropolitans captured a seat in the GPL Championship Playoffs, currently as the #3 seed. Only the Las Vegas Moneymakers have been eliminated from the GPL Americas race (they are the only team OVERALL to be eliminated from playoff contention), leaving the San Francisco Rush (155 points) and the New York Rounders (152 points) to fight over the final berth in the playoffs. New York, who dominated early season play in the GPL, would have to earn more points than the Rush because, if there were a tie, the Rush would hold the tiebreaker with four more total wins than the Rounders.
Over in the GPL Eurasia, it is a much more complicated picture. From the top team in the conference, the Moscow Wolverines, to the bottom squad, the London Royals, only 15 points separate the contenders. With four playoff spots at stake, no one has locked up one or even come close to determining the overall seeding. It is possible that the Wolverines, despite leading the conference coming into the final week of the season, could be left on the “outside looking in” if they don’t perform in the array of matches in the coming week.
The Wolverines will know what they have to do to be able to claim the GPL Eurasia crown by the time they step to the virtual felt on Wednesday afternoon. The second-place team, the Hong Kong Stars, will be playing at 1PM (Eastern time United States) against the Berlin Bears. Both teams aspire about catching the Wolverines and, if one or the other were to sweep the three-match series, they would go in front of the Wolverines. As it is currently, the Moscow team only needs to win two matches to lock up the #1 seed.
While the Wolverines have a seven-point lead over the Hong Kong Stars, the rest of the playoff picture remains murky. Eight points separate the Stars (currently the #2 seed) from the London Royals (currently in sixth place and out of the playoffs) and the Rome Emperors are only seven points back of the Stars. The action in the final week will be critical to determining the three remaining playoff slots with no team staking a strong claim to their position in the postseason.
After next week’s action, the playoffs will be set and the teams will have some prep time. The GPL playoffs are scheduled for November 29-30 at the GPL Arena in Las Vegas and the Championship Matches are scheduled for December 1, also in Las Vegas. Who will be there? That will be determined in the final week of the regular season for the Global Poker League’s inaugural offering.
After hearing evidence from both parties in the complicated case, a judge in U. S. District Court has issued a split decision on the case involving poker professional Phil Ivey and the Borgata in Atlantic City. That split decision has left any final financial decisions completely up in the air as to which party will emerge victorious.
Per NorthJersey.com’s John Brennan, U. S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman issued a rather intriguing decision after months of legal wrangling between Ivey and the Borgata. The case dates to 2012 when Ivey, looking to play high stakes baccarat in Atlantic City, was able to get the casino to acquiesce to many of his requests for a game. Some of those requests were to have a singular eight deck shoe of cards (down to the brand, Gemaco Borgata) and a private playing area provided; that a dealer fluent in Mandarin Chinese act as the dealer; that the deck be shuffled after every hand and that Ivey be allowed to have a “companion,” Cheng Yin Sun, join him at the table. In each case, Ivey’s request was granted.
Over four different occasions, Ivey and Sun journeyed to Atlantic City and, while in action, Sun would speak to the dealer in Mandarin Chinese that Ivey would like cards turned in a particular manner, supposedly as a “superstition” of his. Once again, the dealer and the Borgata acquiesced to the request and play continued onward. Over the span of 107 hours of play and betting $ 50,000 per hand, Ivey and Sun racked up winnings of $ 9.6 million against the Borgata.
The problem came with payment. After the Borgata learned that Crockfords in the United Kingdom had also been visited by Ivey and Sun (the difference only being that, in London, Ivey and Sun were playing a baccarat variant, punto banco) and, after almost $ 12 million had been won by the duo, refused to pay out, the Borgata followed suit. This brought about the legal action from Ivey, who claimed to have committed no infraction and won the money legitimately, and a countersuit from the Borgata claiming malfeasance.
In the discovery and interview process, it was determined that Ivey and Sun were utilizing “edge sorting,” or a method of identifying cards because they were miscut at the factory (well explained by my colleague and friend Dan Katz here). In Ivey’s opinion, the usage of such a technique was an “advantage” play, or a shifting of the odds from the casino’s favor to his (much like card counting in blackjack, another legal move that is frowned upon by the casinos). The Borgata countered that Ivey and Sun deceived the casino and its personnel and that, in fact, the usage of edge sorting was illegal.
Judge Hillman saw merit in each side’s arguments and adjudicated them accordingly. As to the Borgata’s contention that Ivey and Sun used an illegal means to win, Hillman said no. “To meet the elements of fraud, the Borgata must show that Ivey and Sun made a material misrepresentation and that the Borgata relied upon that misrepresentation to its detriment,” Hillman wrote. In his opinion the Borgata, through granting the requests that Ivey asked for, “trusted Ivey” and tried to “profit at (his) expense (as Ivey was trying to do against the casino).”
Ivey didn’t escape Judge Hillman’s gaze, however. Hillman determined that the usage of the “edge sorting” technique employed by Ivey and Sun – and the turning of the cards by the dealer so that they could be identified – “led the cards to be ‘marked’ even though neither player ever touched the cards themselves.” Hillman wrote. In stating that Ivey and Sun’s contentions that they weren’t “marking” the cards per se, Hillman determined that Ivey and Sun’s idea of a “marked” card “is too narrow. By using cards they caused to be maneuvered in order to identify their value only to them, Ivey and Sun adjusted the odds of baccarat in their favor. This is in complete contravention of the fundamental purpose of legalized gambling as set forth by the (New Jersey) CCA (Casino Control Act).”
On the Ivey case, Hillman sided with all the claims presented except for breach of contract and, as to the Borgata countersuit, found in favor of the breach of contract claim but tossed all other actions. Hillman also set a firm, 20-day window that the Borgata will submit briefs requesting damages from Ivey and Sun’s breach of contract and, 20 days after that, Ivey and Sun will respond to that submission.
The split decision is perhaps a way for Hillman to force the two parties back to the negotiating table to hammer out a settlement in the case. As it sits now, it is possible that there will be a resolution of all the actions regarding the 2012 Ivey/Borgata case by the end of this year.