Fat Man must settle £2 million gambling debt

One of the world’s most prolific gamblers, known in casinos as “the Fat Man”, was ordered by a judge yesterday to settle a £2 million gambling debt with togel in Mayfair London.

Fouad al-Zayat, a Syrian-born entrepreneur who is said to have gambled more than £200 million, was told by Mr. Justice David Steel to repay the money he had frittered away in a single night at the club.

The judgment casts new light on the secretive world of high-class casinos and their relationship with their most lucrative clients. It also cements Mr. al-Zayat’s reputation as one of the biggest “whales”, or high spending gamblers, on the international casino circuit.

The judge said that, although Mr. al-Zayat had spent nearly £100 million at the club over 12 years, he should now settle his debt.

“The scale of both his wealth and his gambling instincts are revealed by the fact that between October 1994 and April 2006, the defendant visited the claimant’s club on over 600 occasions, purchasing gaming tokens to the value of over £91 million and, in the process, losing over £23 million,” he said.

Mr. al-Zayat, 65, ran into trouble with the exclusive club in March 2000 when he lost the money on roulette tables. He wrote out a cheque that was expected to be honoured as he had been a member of the club for many years, one director of the club said. However, when the club tried to cash the cheque , it bounced. The court was told that it later became clear that Mr. al-Zayat had sent a fax to his bank cancelling the cheque after a row about croupiers at the club.

Despite the outstanding debt, Mr. al-Zayat was allowed to continue to gamble at Aspinalls, the court was told. He lost a further £10 million, which he was asked to settle in cash or debit card transactions.

The club then waited until just before the six-year deadline, after which the debt could not have been reclaimed through the courts, before starting legal action. It successfully applied for a freezing order on Mr. al-Zayat’s assets, which included a Boeing 747 and a £158,000 Rolls-Royce.

The judge found in favour of the club and ordered Mr. al-Zayat to pay the £2 million, plus the legal costs.

Mr. al-Zayat is an imposing figure who is 6ft tall and has a large waistline. He stays at the Four Seasons, Park Lane, when in London. He is a well-known figure among the wealthy Lebanese and Syrian communities in Knightsbridge and Kensington and has the reputation of being extremely generous. Married with three children, he built his fortune on a string of lucrative deals. Former business partners say that he acted as an intermediary in a series of contracts for the supply of defence -related equipment in Cyprus and the Middle East.

One casino director who knows him said: “He is a huge tipper and it’s not unusual for him to tip £5,000 to a waitress who brings him tea and biscuits”.

Tax breaks for online gaming?

No chance, says Sportingbet

Andy McIver, chief executive of Sportingbet, yesterday dismissed suggestions that the chancellor, Gordon Brown, was likely to lure offshore internet poker and casino firms into taking up UK gaming licences by offering them lower rates of tax. Sportingbet has a licence in Antigua for its web-based Paradise Poker and casino operations. Rivals PartyGaming and 888 are licensed from Gibraltar, another tax haven.

The companies would face 40% gaming duty rates if they were based in the UK, the same as upmarket London casinos.

All operators seeking a licence under the 2005 Gambling Act must apply to the Gambling Commission next month, before a new regulatory regime comes into force in September.

Mr McIver said reports that Gordon Brown could set a gaming tax rate for online operators as low as 2% to 3% were wishful thinking on behalf of his competitors. Asked if the rate could be brought down to a level likely to tempt any offshore firms into taking up UK licences, Mr McIver said: “I think it is unlikely.”

Six years ago the Treasury struck a deal to reduce the betting duty on sports bets in exchange for bookmakers bringing their increasingly popular internet services back onshore.

The comments on gaming tax came after Sportingbet announced that restructuring measures in the wake of its exit from the US market had already generated annual savings of £56m.

US legislation came into force last October outlawing online wagering. Since then authorities in France have launched a clampdown on offshore operators.

Sportingbet said it had not received a letter from French authorities. It does have a French language website but France accounts for about 2% of revenues.

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