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Judge writes off Fat Man's £2m gambling debts at casino 4/9/2008
Maev Kennedy

A man who regularly won and lost millions in a night at London casinos won again yesterday when the high court upheld his refusal to pay £2m in gambling debts after he cancelled a cheque because he disliked the croupier at Aspinall's and considered the game unfair.

Fouad al-Zayat
Fouad al-Zayat
But Fouad al-Zayat, a Syrian-born, Cyprus-based businessman nicknamed the Fat Man, failed in a claim to force the casino to return a further £10.5m losses. He will have to pay his own costs, which are enormous after almost two years of legal actions.

Yesterday Mr Justice Teare repeated the judge's comment from an earlier hearing: "This is one of those cases which have everything to do with law and nothing to do with justice."

The dispute between Aspinall's and one of its most lucrative clients dates back to a Friday night in March 2000 when Zayat settled down to a game of blackjack. He was well known at the club: he first started playing there in 1994, and over more than 600 visits bought £91m in gaming chips and lost more than £23m.

That night he lost steadily, and by the small hours of Saturday was more than £2m down, his worst losses in a single game. At one point he asked for the croupier to be changed, but was told none other was available. When he discovered that there had been another croupier on duty, he was enraged and told his bank to stop the cheque; when the casino tried to bank it the following Tuesday, it bounced.

Aspinall's, reluctant to lose its whale - as the highest-stake gamblers are known - delayed proceeding against him for almost six years, during which he lost another £10.6m. "Not surprisingly he was regarded by the club as an important client who demanded and was shown respect," said the judge.

The casino won an initial judgment that he must pay up, and assets including a personal jet were temporarily frozen. However, Zayat then won the right to launch the appeal which was upheld yesterday, on the grounds that in delaying attempting to recover the debt, the club had in effect given him credit, which is illegal under the Gaming Act. His additional claim for the return of his subsequent losses - when the club allowed him to buy chips using third-party cheques or debit cards - was thrown out.

There was no official response from the club yesterday, but Andrew Herd, one of the directors, said it would be considering the judgment carefully.

The Fat Man has not been seen there recently, nor as far as Aspinall's knows at any of the other London casinos which were once his haunts.

There was no response from Zayat either. However, last year, in one of only a handful of interviews he has ever given, he explained why he was fighting the debt: "Casinos give a service, and if the service is not good, considering the price which you are paying, then you do not pay. If you go to a restaurant and you do not like the food, you do not pay. If you go to the whorehouse and do not get the pleasure you were seeking, you do not pay."

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