Main Menu
Top of Page
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Poker   | News   | Email

Welcome to the News desk.

Epic gambler gets lucky in court over £2m casino battle 20/10/2007
Maev Kennedy

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."

Mr 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.

The blackjack 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."

No date has been set for the appeal hearing.