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 Aspinalls 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”.