Gold Coast high roller sues Crown for lost AUD 30 million

A Gold Coast property developer who excluded himself from Crown Casino is suing the gaming venue for the AUD 30 million he lost in little over a year, amid claims they lured him back with cash and other inducements.

According to Harry Kakavas, the conduct of Crown was „high-handed“, „in flagrant disregard of the law of the state of Victoria“ and designed to cause him to lose „substantial amounts of money“.

Among the other allegations made by Mr Kakavas, Crown provided its own private jet on about 30 occasions to fly him to various locations, including to a holiday resort in the Philippines.

Mr Kakavas claimed he was sometimes given between AUD 30,000 and AUD 50,000 on boarding the private jet or upon entering his room at the casino’s hotel. The cash would be in a box or bags.

Born in Melbourne, Mr Kakavas moved to Queensland and in September 2004 sold his house for a state-record of AUD 18 million. He was one of three men charged over an alleged armed robbery in Melbourne in 1999. One of the other men charged was soccer star Con Boutsianis. The charges against all three were dismissed.

After being granted an exclusion order in 1995, prohibiting him from entering the casino, it is alleged that Crown’s chief operating officer, John Williams, „devised a scheme“ to induce Mr Kakavas to recommence gambling in late 2004.

According to Mr Kakavas‘ statement of claim, lodged in the Supreme Court yesterday, Mr Williams instructed Crown employees „to do what was necessary“ to get Mr Kakavas back.

Ishan Ratnam, vice-president of Crown’s VIP gaming services, allegedly telephoned Mr Kakavas on behalf of Mr Williams to give Crown „a chance“ after hearing that he had been gambling in Las Vegas.

„You don’t need to fly 16 hours to Vegas, when you have a two-hour flight to Crown,“ Mr Ratnam allegedly said. „Johnny Williams said that we will let you bet more than what Vegas allows you, up to AUD 300,000 per hand, and we will give you a 20 per cent rebate on losses.“

It was alleged that Crown’s interstate marketing manager, Richard Doggert, telephoned Mr Kakavas a month later and said: „What do we have to do to get you to come back to Crown? Johnny Williams really wants you back here.“

Mr Doggert allegedly told Mr Kakavas that he needed a letter from a doctor giving him „the all clear to gamble“. „We need the doctor to say that you are over your gambling problems.“

After telling Mr Kakavas that he needed „a letter from any psychologist“, it was alleged Mr Doggert then personally delivered a letter, prepared by Crown, which purported to be a request by Mr Kakavas to have his exclusion order revoked.

But a Queensland psychologist said she was unable to form any opinion as to Mr Kakavas‘ suitability to re-enter the casino in late 2004.

„His goal was to be assessed as fit to use the facilities of the Crown Casino in Melbourne which he had ’self-excluded‘ himself from,“ the psychologist wrote. „This is the only time that I have had contact with Mr Kakavas Therefore I am unable to do an assessment of his suitability for re-admittance.“

In his statement of claim, Mr Kakavas said Crown violated the Casino Control Act, and had given him credit of up to AUD 1.5 million. Crown had „a duty not to exacerbate or exploit“ his weakness but had breached its duty of care by inviting, encouraging and procuring him to gamble.

„Between 24 June 2005 and August 2006, the plaintiff (Mr Kakavas) suffered losses of approximately $ 30 million,“ said the statement of claim. „Crown won AUD 30 million by means of ill practice.“

Mr Kakavas claims he and his friends were guests of Crown at the Australian Open tennis in 2005 and were given free tickets and limousine transport, as well as free food, drinks and accommodation at the casino but was told by one employee that Crown wanted to keep his visit „low profile“.

Mr Kakavas said last night that „justice will take its course“. „I have the finest three QCs in Australia standing behind me,“ he said.

Two QCs, Allan Myers and Cliff Pannam, as well as Leslie Glick, SC, are representing Mr Kakavas, who is suing Crown for his losses plus interest, costs and „further or other relief as to the court seems appropriate“.

Crown last night would not comment.