- »Singapore Court Reveals Reason for Gambling Debt Ruling
Singapore Court Reveals Reason for Gambling Debt Ruling
The case was interesting for many reasons. The Star Entertainment Group sued a gambler on behalf of The Star Gold Coast Casino in Queensland for more than $43 million. It was a massive case of a casino versus a high-stakes baccarat player.
When it went in front of the Singapore International Commercial Court last year, The Star lost its case. But only recently did the public discover the reason for the loss and the public policy upon which the judge based his decision.
Starting with a 2018 Gambling Session
Dr. Wong Yew Choy is a 55-year-old man from living in Singapore, known for his high-stakes gambling trips to casinos around the world.
As many casinos did, The Star Gold Coast invited him to its Queensland casino for the VIP treatment. Specifically, The Star offered a round-trip flight on a private jet from Singapore to Australia, luxury accommodations during his stay, and $200,000 in “lucky money” with which to gamble.
Dr. Wong took them up on the offer and arrived at the Gold Coast property on July 26, 2018. After the “lucky money” went quickly, Dr. Wong gave the casino a blank check in return for $40 million in casino chips. He then requested and received another $10 million the following day.
After losing tens of millions of dollars, he told casino management that the baccarat dealer was making mistakes, which resulted in his losses. Dr. Wong said that a senior casino executive assured him that no mistakes would be made if he kept playing.
On August 1, Dr. Wong said it happened again. He decided to leave and return to Singapore. His losses amounted to more than $40 million, for which he left the black check to cover.
The Star Gold Coast attempted to cash the check for the amount owed, but the bank would not cash it, claiming Dr. Wong stopped payment on the check. The Star said that the gambler told them he would not authorize any payment due to dealer mistakes, as the losses were not his fault.
See You in Court…in Singapore
The Star made numerous attempts to obtain payment form Dr. Wong but finally gave up in February 2019. The Star Entertainment Group filed a lawsuit against him in Singapore’s high court for exactly $43,209,853.22.
At that time, a casino spokesperson expressed extreme disappointment in the trajectory of the case. “We would not be wasting the court’s time unless we felt our position was extremely robust.”
Dr. Wong responded that he was going to fight the lawsuit “as a matter of principle.”
A Gambler’s Victory
In August 2019, Justice Jeremy Cooke heard arguments for two days in the Singapore International Commercial Court.
The Star argued that Dr. Wong lost that amount in baccarat games but left the casino with an unusable check. The company claimed that Dr. Wong breached a check cashing facility agreement by stopping payment on the check.
Dr. Wong argued that the dealers in the baccarat games made mistakes. His attorneys argued, however, that The Star may have won the money from Dr. Wong on a wager but misrepresented it as a claim for an unpaid loan.
Judge Cooke ruled in favor of Dr. Wong, and The Star lost the case worth more than $43 million.
Basis for Decision Recently Revealed
The Straits Times Singapore revealed more about the court’s decision. The article described the public policy upon which Justice Cooke based his ruling.
The law at the center of it all was Section 5(2) of the Civil Law Act, which prohibits the recovery of gambling debts with very few exceptions.
Dr. Wong’s attorneys claimed that The Star was trying to recover a gambling debt rather than reimbursement for the breach of a check cashing facility (CCF) agreement that they originally argued.
The Star’s lawyer argued that the CCF agreement was applicable because Dr. Wong didn’t dispute the validity of that agreement. And The Star correctly brought it to the Singapore court for it to enforce contractual laws. Further, regarding Section 5(2) didn’t apply to the case because it doesn’t mention foreign debts and that the law’s protections don’t apply to Dr. Wong because he was not in need of such protection.
Dr. Wong’s representation cited a 2002 Court of Appeal decision involving a Star City Sydney casino, which ruled that Section 5(2) prevents recovery of gambling debts regardless of the location of the gambling or the contract’s validity.
Ultimately, Cooke felt he had to uphold the 2002 decision as a matter of public policy and to solidify the applicability of Section 5(2) of the Civil Law Act.
“However much it might stick in the gullet and appear unconscionable for a wealthy man to avoid what has been described as a ‘debt of honour,’ Justice Cooke said, the court could not rule in favor of any entity for money won on a wager. And the Casino Control Act was not a viable alternative basis for the lawsuit.
Judge Cooke also noted that his decision was a “necessary concomitant of a public policy which is protective of Singapore’s interests.”