Poker

MGM Sends Phil Ivey A Message By Removing His Name From Poker Room

aria las vegas

Phil Ivey is one of just 56 members of the Poker Hall of Fame (only 30 are living), but that isn’t enough to keep his name on a exclusive, high-stakes section of the poker room at the Aria casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

This week, the Aria removed a plaque on the wall dubbing it “The Ivey Room” and replaced it with a new sign that simply calls the private room “Table 1.” It’s hard to see the new name as a rebranding. It’s not a very media-friendly moniker, and folks outside the poker scene in Sin City might end up simply referring to the entire space as the Aria poker room. Some will always call it The Ivey Room. (Having Ivey’s name on it reportedly wasn’t costing the casino a dime.)

The move as a simple rebranding seems even less plausible considering that typically all tables in a poker room have numbers.

The Ivey Room, effectively, was shuttered.

Removing Ivey’s iconic name comes at a time of stagnation for the Las Vegas poker market, with many poker rooms closing in recent years. Ivey isn’t quite the titan of poker that he once was, for some reasons of his own control and others out of his control, but his name on the poker lounge still made it a destination for gambling tourists checking out America’s gambling capital, especially when poker is in season during the World Series of Poker.

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The move came a little more than two weeks after the Borgata casino in Atlantic City was granted approval by a federal court to docket a $10.1 million judgment against the poker legend in the state of Nevada, where the casino says Ivey has assets it can take. The 2016 judgment is currently under appeal in the U.S. Third Circuit in Philadelphia, but Ivey is on the hook for the judgment while the appeal is pending.

We’ve known for months that Borgata was seeking to move the judgment to Nevada, so Aria could have done this much earlier. The judgment against Ivey stems from advantage play known as edge-sorting dating back to 2012, which has put Ivey on relatively poor terms with the casino operator for several years.

Aria is half-owned by MGM Resorts, which owns the Borgata casino.

‘It means the world to me’

Aria opened The Ivey Room in May 2010, about a year before Full Tilt Poker left American cyberspace thanks to an online poker crackdown by the federal government. The Ivey Room survived years of less-than-favorable PR pertaining to Ivey, FTP, and the repayment of former customers of the site. Ivey, a key member of the FTP stable of players, was never accused of any wrongdoing involving the defunct poker platform, but the years-long scandal certainly took its toll on Ivey.

Aria stuck with him then, but the gambling controversy in which he’s been embroiled the last several years hits close to home. It is worth mentioning that many people believe Borgata to be in the wrong for not letting Ivey just keep his winnings.

Ivey is a man of few words to the media, and he rarely shows his emotions publicly. It’s part of his legendary mystique as a poker player. Astute observers over the years have been able to catch glimpses of Ivey tilt, but rarely did it approach anything near breaking out of his poker face.

We’re unlikely to see a public acknowledgement from Ivey himself regarding The Ivey Room.

“It means the world to me,” Ivey said to PokerNews in an interview during an opening ceremony for The Ivey Room. It was a rare moment of emotion from the 10-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner.

“I come from nothing, and now I’m here,” Ivey added. “It’s very exciting that I’m able to share this with my family and friends, and poker players I’m close with. I’m very honored.”

It’s hard to hear that quote again and not feel sympathy for Ivey, who actually cut his teeth gambling in Atlantic City and has admitted to sleeping under the boardwalk after gambling sessions. In many ways, the end of The Ivey Room suggests an end to the Ivey era, which coincided with the mid-2000s poker boom many are nostalgic for. Time will tell if Ivey can rekindle his past poker greatness, but even if he does start winning bracelets again (he’s now in his 40s), the magic during the height of his career might never reappear.

‘Bobby’s Room’ remains

MGM also owns the Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip, which is home to a busy poker room and a similar high-stakes poker lounge called “Bobby’s Room,” named after 1978 WSOP Main Event winner and former MGM executive Bobby Baldwin. Late last year, Baldwin left MGM in a development that was unexpected for many in the industry. A reason was his departure was not made public in a brief company press release.

It certainly is possible that Baldwin played a major role in keeping Ivey’s name on the Aria high-stakes poker lounge over the years as Ivey’s personal brand experienced some rough times.

Baldwin was the chief customer development officer at MGM, along with president of CityCenter.

Here it is worth mentioning that Ivey was rarely seen in his own poker room. It’s unclear when he last played a high-stakes cash game in it. However, as previously mentioned, he drastically scaled back his poker play overall in the years after Black Friday and the edge-sorting scandal, so it wasn’t simply a snub to his room.

Like Ivey, Baldwin is a legendary poker player, but no one could argue that Baldwin’s name is bigger in the game than Ivey’s. Can anyone see Bellagio removing Baldwin’s first name from that lounge?

It looks like MGM has finally decided to send Ivey, once a coveted high-stakes customer, a message that it means business. It seems like the company is looking to be done with the poker great for good.

Photo by Jason Patrick Ross / Shutterstock.com

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