Many a high-roller has lost his shirt at Melbourne's Crown casino, the largest gambling establishment in the southern hemisphere, but none, perhaps, in quite so spectacular a fashion as Harry Kakavas, who dropped 2.3m Australian dollars (£1.3m) in one 28-minute baccarat session.
During a 15-month spree at Crown, Mr Kakavas, a multimillionaire property dealer, turned over a total of A$1.5bn, betting up to A$300,000 a hand and ultimately losing A$20m. Now he is suing the casino – which is owned by James Packer, son of the late Kerry, himself a legendary gambler – claiming it lured him back to its tables despite knowing he was an addict.
The Victorian Supreme Court, expected to hand down judgment imminently, heard that the casino flew Mr Kakavas to and from his home on the Queensland Gold Coast in its private jet and gave him gift-wrapped boxes containing up to A$50,000 of "lucky money".
This happened, according to the evidence, after Mr Packer Snr spotted Mr Kakavas in 2004 in Las Vegas, where he had just lost A$4m. Mr Packer – who once reportedly offered to toss a coin with a Texan oil magnate for the latter's US$60m (£36.8m) fortune – telephoned Crown's chief operating officer, John Williams, to ask who Mr Kakavas was and why he was not playing at Crown.
In fact, the property dealer had voluntarily excluded himself from the casino in the 1990s, and sought treatment for a gambling problem. However he had continued gambling elsewhere, although he gradually excluded himself or was banned from almost every casino in Australia.
After Mr Packer's call, Crown executives decided to readmit Mr Kakavas, although they knew – according to his lawyer, Allan Myers, QC – that "when he got going at Crown, he could not stop". That was literally so on one occasion, when he gambled non-stop for 17 hours, caught a few hours' sleep, then hit the tables again.
Mr Kakavas, who is suing Crown for A$30m in losses and damages, told the court: "I don't know what [Guinness World Records] say, but it would be pretty close [to a world record loss]."
Crown disputes Mr Kakavas was an addict. The company, which is counter-suing him for A$1m, argues that he made his own choices. After banning himself, Mr Kakavas repeatedly lobbied Crown to be allowed back. Mr Williams described the A$2.3m loss in one sitting as not unusual for recreational gambling by a businessman.Reuse content