A millionaire high-roller who sued a posh West End bookmaker alleging they should have protected him from his addiction when he blew £100,000 has had his attempt to get his money back rejected by a judge.
Businessman Scott O’Brien, 54, claimed he had been addicted to the “dark and destructive” habit of gambling his entire adult life and was even driven by his problem to attempt suicide.
But he said his habit took off after he sold his Essex-based paper recycling company Pulp Friction for £9m in 2012 and he was so ‘erratic’ at one point that he stashed £1m in cash at the bottom of his wardrobe.
He was a regular at the flagship store of upscale bookmaker Star Sports – close to the Dorchester Hotel, in Mayfair – and claimed to have wagered more than £400,000 there.
Businessman Scott O’Brien, 54, claimed he was addicted to the ‘dark and destructive’ habit of gambling his entire adult life and was even driven by his problem to attempt suicide
He was a regular at the flag shop of upscale bookmaker Star Sports – close to the Dorchester Hotel, in Mayfair – and claimed to have wagered more than £400,000 there
After losing £48,859 in bets – and at least another £50,000 he said he blew on gambling terminals – he sued the company in Central London County Court for his money back, claiming he should have been protected from his addiction.
He alleged that Star Sports breached its duty to act in accordance with the “provisions of the Code of Social Responsibility” and that some of his gambling losses “were due to Star Sports’ failure to comply with the (code) applicable is on its operating licence’.
But Judge Heather Baucher dismissed Mr O’Brien’s case after rejecting his claim that he told staff he had a gambling problem when he first visited the Deanery Street store.
It comes as ministers have been urged to support gambling restrictions to tackle addiction.
A gambling industry reform white paper is expected to be published this week, after it was first promised in December 2020.
It is expected to introduce a £2 limit on the bet young gamblers can place on online games and impose a legal tax on companies to fund addiction treatment.
But there are concerns about gambling firms’ attempts to get ministers to water down plans after Scott Benton was suspended as a Tory MP after he was caught offering industry lobbying in an undercover sting.
During the three-day trial, the court heard that Mr O’Brien lost about £48,000 in betting – including £14,000 advanced to him as credit – but said that taking into account money he also blew on gambling terminals, his losses amounted to about £100,000.
Mr O’Brien told the judge it was “common knowledge among Star staff that I had a gambling problem” and that he only went there because other bookmakers had restricted his betting.
“I have gambled all my life and it has stripped me. I don’t even like gambling, but it’s just something I can’t control,” Mr O’Brien told the judge.
He said his habit took off after he sold his Essex-based paper recycling company, Pulp Friction, for £9m in 2012 and was so ‘erratic’ at one point that he hid £1m in cash at the bottom of his wardrobe.
He said he had such a gambling fever that he once lost £836,000 in one night at a casino, only to win it all back during a ‘purple patch’.
He had been a ‘good customer’ at Star Sports where he lost ‘terrible amounts of money’, Mr O’Brien claimed, adding: ‘It was very easy for me to gamble in Star without asking questions.’
Mr O’Brien insisted he had told an employee, Gemma Mehmet, that he was a ‘compulsive gambler’ and said the company should have taken steps to exclude him, or at least tried to limit his bets over a period of six months. between October 2018 and March 2019.
The former recycled paper magnate said he told Ms Mehmet about his problem when he recognized her as a parent from his children’s school, but urged her not to let on that he had a problem, fearing his ex-wife would learn. that he was gambling again.
“I thought maybe Gemma would say something,” he told the court. “I asked her not to tell anyone that I had a bit of a gambling problem and she seemed understanding.
“I told Gemma that I had tried to commit suicide once and spent 10 months in rehab because of my addiction – and I begged her not to tell my ex.”
Mr O’Brien, who said he went through rehab in 2002, added: ‘I told her I had had serious problems in the past and it would cause bigger problems if my ex-wife found out. ‘
He accepted that he had not asked Star Sports staff to bar him from entering the betting shop to prevent gambling, but explained, “I am a compulsive gambler and so I didn’t want to be left out.”
His off-scale gambling peaked when he bet £111,945 on March 30, he said.
But defense attorney Christopher Gillespie disputed that he had admitted his addiction to the Star Sports cashier, calling his claim “nonsense” and arguing that staff had no reason to suspect Mr O’Brien was in serious trouble. sat, and disputed that he was a ‘problem gambler’.
The attorney told Judge Baucher, “The plaintiff never warned a member of staff that he had a gambling problem or was a problem gambler.
“On the contrary, Plaintiff portrayed himself as a successful businessman with a variety of interests, who lived in Knightsbridge, had a driver, was well dressed and moved in well-to-do social circles.”
The former recycling mogul was not a daily visitor to the Star Sports store, said Gillespie, who had visited 17 times in six months.
And until his last betting day, March 30, 2019, “his winnings exceeded his losses,” the lawyer said.
Judge Baucher dismissed Mr O’Brien’s case, saying it was based on his claim that he told staff when he first joined Star Sports that he had a ‘gambling problem’.
However, his evidence did not “prove that the plaintiff was a problem gambler when he presented himself to the defendant,” she continued.
The staff had no idea he would overstep himself until the last day of his gambling when his losses hit their ‘internal trigger point of £40,000’.
The staff had no reason to suspect he had a problem when he first went to the store, the judge ruled, concluding: ‘The plaintiff was not a problem gambler and he did not tell Ms Mehmet that he was.
“Nothing indicated to them that the plaintiff had a problem with gambling until…March 30.”
His claim was rejected.