Epic gambler gets lucky in court over £2m casino
The Fat Man's erratic luck was in yesterday: the gambler who for
years has won and lost on an epic scale in London's casinos gained the right to
appeal against a £2m debt run up in one spectacularly unsuccessful night
seven years ago.
In spring the high
court ruled that Fouad al-Zayat must pay his gambling losses, and the rapidly
escalating legal bill of the private members' club Aspinalls, after a dispute
which has rumbled on since the Syrian-born millionaire stopped a cheque over a
game which he thought unfair.
Yesterday, while three judges unanimously
granted leave to appeal - on the grounds that there is at least an argument
that the club in effect illegally extended him credit - they were scathing in
their opinions of the gambler and the club.
The history of the debt, Lord Justice Sedley said,
"reflects no credit on either of them". Sir Anthony Clarke agreed that Mr Zayat
had "an arguable defence", but added: "I have serious doubts as to whether the
defendant has real, as opposed to fanciful, prospects of success."
Zayat lives mainly in Cyprus, but has been one of the most spectacular of the
international high rollers known as "whales" over years of gambling in London
casinos. The total of his bets and losses is not known but in 2002, when the
Ritz also sued over a bounced cheque, he was said to have visited that club 156
times in three years, losing a total of £10m. His patronage of Aspinalls
was even more spectacular: in more than 600 visits, he bought £91m worth
of gaming chips and lost more than £23m of them.
session began one Friday night in March 2000 and ended in the small hours of
Saturday with what were described as his worst losses in a single game. He
demanded the croupier be replaced but was told there was nobody else available,
and was enraged when he found this to be untrue.
He claims that he
settled the bill with an undated cheque, on the understanding that the club
would not present it until his grievances were resolved. The club tried to bank
it the following Tuesday, only to find he had already stopped it. He was back
within three weeks, and went on to lose another £10.6m over the next
couple of years.
Aspinalls then insisted that he pay cash or with
third-party cheques - including some representing his winnings from other clubs
- and made only sporadic and disputed attempts to recover the £2m until
three days before the six-year validity of a cheque would have expired. Mr
Zayat claimed that by not moving faster on the cheque, the club had broken the
law against giving credit for gambling.
Lord Justice Sedley said:
"Aspinalls, instead of burning their bridges with Mr al-Zayat by suing him on
his cheque, permitted him for another six years to go on gambling so that he
could lose millions more pounds to them. Then, at the last permissible minute,
they sued him."