A very bad night at Aspinalls - unlucky gambler tries to overturn
on Saturday March 11 2000, even by his own extraordinary standards, the Fat Man
had had a seriously bad night at the exclusive private gambling club Aspinalls.
He had signed for four successive stacks of £500,000 worth of gambling
chips, and lost the lot at blackjack. He had also lost more than £350,000
on another game. He was not a happy man.
What happened next provoked a
dispute that has rumbled on for seven years - during which Fouad al-Zayat
returned to the club on scores of occasions to lose another £10.6m - and
yesterday ended up in court for another expensive punt on the legal system.
The cases have exposed the astounding lifestyle of the "whales", the
international coterie of gamblers who swim in the opaque waters of private
clubs and casinos, and win or lose the gross national product of a small
country on the turn of a card or the throw of a die. Even in that company, Mr
Zayat was a "blue whale", noted when he was winning for tipping staff thousands
of pounds, often in gambling chips.
In the game which began late that Friday night,
and ended some time around 4am on Saturday, Mr Zayat lost steadily and became
increasingly discontented. He demanded that the croupier be replaced, but was
told no one else was available. When it came to settling his huge debt, he
signed a cheque but did not date it. His understanding, he says, is that the
club would not present his cheque until his concerns about how the game was
conducted were resolved.
In the event the club tried to lodge the
cheque the following Tuesday, within the two banking days required under the
Gambling Act - only to find that Mr Zayat had already been in touch with his
bank and stopped the cheque.
Even after that he was too valuable a
customer to offend: he was back at Aspinalls within three weeks, only from then
on he had to pay upfront. His luck was not always as bad: on his many return
visits he paid sometimes by debit card, sometimes with cheques representing his
winnings at other London clubs.
Yesterday the Syrian-born businessman,
forced reluctantly into the glare of publicity by a string of recent court
cases, sent his lawyers back to the court of appeal to try to tear up his
£2m debt on the grounds that Aspinalls had acted illegally in offering
him credit in the first place.
In February, Mr Justice Steel ruled in
the high court that Mr Zayat had to pay Aspinalls the debt and cover the club's
£150,000 legal bill. The court heard then that, in more than 600 visits
to Aspinalls in 12 years, he bought £91m worth of gaming chips and lost
over £23m. He was well liked in the clubs he frequented.
the February judgment, journalists tracked him to the home in Cyprus where he
has lived quietly for more than 30 years with his Lebanese-born wife, and
secured the only known published photograph.
He vowed never to set foot
in a London casino again, and told a reporter: "If you go to a restaurant and
you do not like the food, then you do not pay. If you go to the whorehouse and
do not get the pleasure you were seeking, you do not pay."
His wins and
losses in other clubs are unknown, but in 2002 he was also sued for bouncing a
cheque at the Ritz club, which he was said to have visited 156 times in three
years, losing a total of £10m. In May the Iranian government failed in an
attempt to sue him, also in the high court in London, accusing him of taking
payment for a jumbo jet that was never delivered. His lawyer called the case
Mr Justice Langley ruled that his aircraft-leasing
firm, registered in Cyprus, did not do sufficient business in London to give
British courts jurisdiction.
He has also been named in the US courts as
giving tens of thousands of dollars, including gambling chips, to a Republican
congressman, Robert Ney, who was jailed for corruption. Yesterday he did not
appear in court, but his lawyers argued that the claimed agreement by the club
not to lodge the cheque, and the fact that it waited almost six years to sue
for payment, meant Aspinalls had extended him credit - which is illegal under
the Gambling Act. They suggested that the club deliberately backed off on the
£2m debt, rather than lose one of its most valuable customers.
"Mr Al Zayat says that if he had known they were going to proceed
against him, he would never have darkened their doors again," David Lord,
representing Mr Zayat, told the master of the rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, and
lords justice Sedley and Lloyd.
They will rule later on whether the
case should have a full appeal court hearing.