Addict who gambled AUD 1.4b sues casino

Crown Casino chief executive Rowen Craigie was allegedly part of a plan to target a chronic gambler who turned over AUD 1.4 billion in a 14-month gambling spree while banned from every casino in Australia.

The explosive allegations are part of amended Supreme Court documents which also reveal that gambling addict Harry Kakavas, who is suing the casino for damages, wore a concealed hearing device that captured Crown’s senior managers allegedly attempting to lure him back to the Southbank venue.

Crown and senior executives Mr Craigie and chief operating officer John Williams will face serious claims of unconscionable conduct in what shapes as a landmark case for the Australian casino industry.

During a conversation recorded by Mr Kakavas on February 26, 2007, Crown senior executive Richard Doggert is alleged to have said that he had been instructed by Crown chief operating officer John Williams to make contact with Mr Kakavas and induce him back to Crown’s baccarat tables.

„Williams asked Doggert to contact the plaintiff (Kakavas) because Williams wanted to look clean if the plaintiff’s exclusion order could not be lifted,“ according to the amended statement of claim.

During a separate wire recording on February 20, 2007, Mr Kakavas, a Gold Coast property developer, claims he was told by Mr Doggert that Crown management was aware of an interstate exclusion order in 2004, but did not „give a monkey’s“ about what happened in NSW or other states.

Crown management were also aware of Mr Kakavas’s serious gambling addiction and fragile mental state as early as 1998.

Bill Horman, Crown’s general manager for community affairs, warned of several suicide threats in a statement prepared for Mr Kakavas in a separate criminal trial.

„Over a period of time I observed Mr Kakavas in a condition which caused me some concern. On a number of occasions he talked about committing suicide,“ Mr Horman said.

Despite the warning, email correspondence on October 27, 2004, details a plan allegedly hatched by Crown management to lure Mr Kakavas back to Melbourne after it discovered he was gambling in Las Vegas.

„Harry Kakavas has apparently just dropped between 3 and 4 million in Las Vegas last week. Bill (Horman) and Howard (Aldridge) get a draft copy of the letter in which it would take for Harry to let back (sic) to play at Crown. I will then discuss with Rowen (Craigie). Regards JW (John Williams).“

In January 2005, Mr Williams, stepson of former Crown owner Lloyd Williams, is alleged to have spoken with Mr Kakavas regarding his return.

„We want you to come back, but we want you to start (gambling) slowly. We don’t want you to start too quickly because you’ve had a problem in the past. Enjoy the facilities first. Start slowly and the jet will come later,“ the court documents claim Mr Williams said.

When Mr Kakavas finally returned to Melbourne he lost AUD 36.7 million in a 14-month gambling binge, during which he was extended credit of AUD 7.5 million.

The credit and cheque-cashing facilities are believed to have been approved by Mr Craigie and Mr Williams.

During the spree, the confessed gambling addict turned over AUD 1.4 billion, a figure believed to have been provided to Mr Kakavas’s defence by Crown’s legal team.

Mr Kakavas is seeking more than AUD 50 million in damages, with the case expected to be heard in June next year.

Crown may have breached the Trade Practices Act, Victoria’s gambling regulations and the Crown Casino Act if Mr Kakavas’s allegations are proved.

In December last year, Supreme Court judge David Harper ruled that Crown had a case to answer and dismissed a strike-out application by the casino’s lawyers.