Did Phil Ivey put a stumbling block in front of a blind man to the tune of $12 million?
Over the past few days the internet has been buzzing about whether “[a]ccomplished gambler and noted professional poker player Phil Ivey” should be paid his gambling winnings after a manufacturing defect allowed him (allegedly) to “read” the back of cards at a London casino. (See Larry Brown, Phil Ivey Reportedly Read Back of Cards to Win $11.9 Million at Casino.)
Ivey contends he did not violate any laws; but I wonder whether his actions violated the Torah.
According to the article, after noticing the manufacturing defect, “Ivey’s partner reportedly convinced the dealers to hold up the cards and give them a full 180 degree look at the cards.” The story adds that Ivey and his partner “convinced the casino to reuse the same cards the next day, which is a departure from the typical practice of destroying cards after sessions.”
To be honest, until about six years ago, I believed thought that Ivey’s actions were perfectly kosher, so to speak. After all, both he and the casino are sophisticated parties. And the casino should have known better than to break its protocol.
But in 2007, I was attending a Torah study session at the Karaite Jews of America. The discussion was actually led by the current Chief Rabbi of the Karaite community. The focus of the session was a well-known biblical verse: “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” (Leviticus 19:14.)
At the time, I thought the meaning of the verse was simple and might prohibit many types of actions. I never thought, though, that the verse could be applied to business dealings. But as the discussion continued, I began to believe that the verse might also prohibit the type of actions Ivey is accused to have done. After all, the preceding verse prohibits defrauding your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:13.) And two verses before that we are told not to deal falsely. (Leviticus 19:11.)
Regardless of whether Ivey placed any stumbling blocks at the London casino, the Tanakh is full of other verses which exemplify the business ethics that should guide our conduct. (See Leviticus 19:35-36; Leviticus 25:14; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 11:1.) And, of course, those familiar with the Talmud know that in the Rabbinic tradition, the first question someone is asked on judgment day reflects these underlying values: “Were you honest in your business dealings?” (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a [literally: “Did you deal faithfully [i.e., with integrity].” Soncino Translation.)
So what do you think of Mr. Ivey’s actions?
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Today is the 5th day of the 7th week of seven weeks. Today is the 47th day of the counting of fifty days from the day of the waving of the Omer on the morrow after the Sabbath.