Kakavas takes Crown to High Court as Packer eyes Sri Lanka

TAGs: Australia, Crown Ltd., Harry Kakavas, James Packer, problem gambling, Sri Lanka

crown-harry-kakavas-james-packerAustralian property developer/betting whale Harry Kakavas (the squinting gent on the left) is taking his multi-year fight against casino outfit Crown Ltd. to the nation’s highest court. The High Court of Australia has agreed to consider Kakavas’ claims that Crown execs “unconscionably” took advantage of his gambling addiction to boost their bottom line.

In case you’re joining us late, back in 2005, Kakavas went on a betting bender, wagering $1.479b over 14 months at the Crown Casino Melbourne. During one of his 30 visits to the casino, Kakavas bet $300k a hand and lost $2.4m in 43 minutes. All told, the casino netted $20.5m. Shortly thereafter, Kakavas began his long legal quest to recoup his losses.

The high-roller accused Crown of plying him with perks, but lower courts ruled that Kakavas had repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to resist the urge to gamble at Crown casinos when they didn’t provide the perks he requested. Crown CEO Rowen Craigie and senior exec John Williams are also accused of knowingly disregarding a casino self-exclusion order Kakavas had taken out in New South Wales. Kakavas’ attorneys claim Crown initiated contact with their client – a man “suffering from a special disadvantage” – and “induced him to gamble and continue gambling … without obtaining a medical report stating he was no longer suffering from any gambling problems.”

The Victorian Supreme Court rejected Kakavas’ claim. Crown’s defense team suggested Kakavas’ case had “failed miserably” because judges had found “no evidence at all of a conspiracy to exploit [Kakavas].” (This isn’t even the only case involving Kakavas in which judges have reached similar conclusions. In 2010, Kakavas was ordered to pay the Atlantis Paradise Island Casino in the Bahamas $1m over a casino marker Kakavas regretted asking for after he’d lost it.) Regardless, the High Court has now agreed to hear the case, and a full bench of five judges will take submissions in Canberra on April 4 and 5.

As gambling execs across Australia ponder the potential ramifications of Kakavas somehow prevailing, Crown boss James Packer (pictured on the right) has been distracting himself in Sri Lanka. Crown execs confirmed reports that Packer had met with Sri Lankan ministers this week, with an eye toward building an integrated resort casino in the country. The nation’s Minister of Investment Promotion told Reuters that Crown had neither picked a spot on which to build nor provided any estimate as to how much such a project would cost.

Sri Lanka officially legalized casinos in 2011 but had tolerated their presence for years. There are about nine casinos in operation in Sri Lanka, many operating under names like the Bellagio, Bally’s and MGM, although none is affiliated with their American namesakes. Sri Lanka has a population of just 20m, but there’s a billion or so Indians not far offshore. If Crown does decide to build a facility in Sri Lanka, it’s unclear whether it would proceed under its own banner or via its Melco Crown Entertainment joint venture, which is currently developing a second casino in Macau as well as the Belle Grande resort-casino in the Philippines.


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