'Highest of high rollers': Harry Kakavas says Crown Casino knew he was a pathological gambler but continued to let him gamble away millions. Photo: Erin Jonasson
A man who gambled away almost $1.5 billion in 14 months at Melbourne's Crown Casino has begun his fight in Australia's highest court to win back a small fraction of his losses.
Gold Coast businessman Harry Kakavas, described in the High Court on Thursday as Australia's "highest of high rollers", claims Crown knew he was a pathological gambler but lured him back anyway to take advantage of his "special disability".
The court heard that between June 2005 and August 2006, Mr Kakavas spent $1.479 billion at Crown, winning and losing vast sums, often on hands of baccarat that took just seconds to play.
During one "frenetic" stint in May 2006, Mr Kakavas spent a staggering $164 million in just five and a half hours.
His attempts to recover losses of $20.5 million from Crown failed in Victoria's Supreme Court and on appeal in May last year.
His last chance lies with the High Court, which is being asked to consider whether Crown took "unconscionable advantage" of their most lucrative Australian client by letting him gamble despite his addiction.
Allan Myers QC, representing Mr Kakavas, said his client had been clinically diagnosed as a pathological gambler with a severely impaired ability to make rational decisions at the betting table.
He always played the highest amounts possible, borrowed millions from banks, friends and family and even served a brief jail sentence for stealing $286,000 to keep up his habit.
Mr Kakavas also gambled in Las Vegas and once flew a jet on a whim to Macau where he lost as much as US$4 million in just a day, the court heard.
"What the evidence demonstrates ... (is) that this was a man who did not and could not control his urge to gamble and Crown knew it," Mr Myers said.
Mr Kakavas tried to manage his problem through therapy, having himself barred from casinos and bringing smaller amounts of money to bet.
But Mr Myers said Crown made concessions, allowing the high roller to bet $300,000 per hand on baccarat and driving him to the bank to withdraw more money after he lost $1 million.
Crown knew a "great variety of facts" about his condition and once attempted to get a letter from a psychologist before allowing Mr Kakavas to re-enter their casino, he said.
"They knew that he was a serious and problem gambler," Mr Myers said.
The court bench, while agreeing Mr Kakavas suffered from pathological gambling, asked why he should be treated any differently from other punters when the odds were the same for everyone.
"What is it that makes Crown's behaviour in this case, with this man, unconscionable?" asked High Court Justice Kenneth Hayne.
Mr Myers said his client's gambling behaviour was not normal and demonstrated his "special disadvantage" at the playing table.
Mr Kakavas declined to comment outside the courtroom when asked about the case, saying he'd wait until a verdict was handed down.
The case continues.