Marina Bay Sands wins lawsuit to recover $240,000 in first casino debt collection case in Singapore

Court rejects gambler's 'not a premium player' argument in first such debt case

Mr Ong has to pay back $240,868 plus interest to MBS. -- ST FILE PHOTO
Mr Ong has to pay back $240,868 plus interest to MBS. -- ST FILE PHOTO

The first casino debt collection case in Singapore has resulted in a win for Marina Bay Sands (MBS), which means it can recover the $240,000 it extended as credit to a patron.

Mr Lester Ong Boon Lin, 33, had contested MBS' claim, arguing that the debt was not recoverable as he was not a "premium player" under the law and that MBS breached casino regulations in giving him credit.

But in a 30-page judgment released on Tuesday, High Court Judge Lai Siu Chiu held that Mr Ong was a premium player and MBS had complied with the rules.

Mr Ong was ordered to pay back $240,868, plus interest at 12 per cent per annum, calculated from Aug 15, 2010, until the date he pays in full. He also has to bear MBS' legal costs, which will be determined at a later date.

MBS' lawyer S. Suressh said the judgment will impact other suits involving casino patrons who refuse to pay their debts.

"Many defendants have raised allegations of technical breaches on the part of the casino as an excuse to avoid paying," said Mr Suressh, whose firm Harry Elias Partnership is handling 30 to 40 other cases for MBS.

"This judgment shows that the court will not entertain such fanciful and unmeritorious technical allegations."

Under the Casino Control Act, operators can extend credit to Singaporeans or permanent residents only if they are premium players.

A premium player is one who "maintains a deposit account with the casino operator with a credit balance of not less than $100,000 before the commencement of play".

On May 1, 2010, Mr Ong gave $100,000 in cash to MBS' casino cage and received chips of the same value. He applied for a $1 million credit line, but got approval for one of only $250,000.

He withdrew the $250,000 in chips, signing an agreement to pay on demand. The agreement included an interest-free period of 90 days after the loan's maturity date, following which a 12 per cent rate applied.

Mr Ong gambled away all the chips.

MBS sued him after he failed to pay the sum owed, which amounted to $240,868 after offsetting $9,132 he earned under the casino's chip rolling programme.

Mr Ong argued that he was not a premium player because he did not deposit $100,000 with the casino; he merely exchanged the sum for chips.

Justice Lai found the argument inconsistent with the fact that Mr Ong had signed deposit and withdrawal slips.

Mr Ong asserted that "maintain" in the law meant that, to be a premium player, one had to keep at least $100,000 in the account at any time, which he did not.

But the judge agreed with MBS that Mr Ong qualified as a premium player by depositing $100,000 with the casino and remained one for a period of one year, regardless of the balance in his account.

MBS declined to comment on the judgment. Mr Ong's lawyer, Mr Sunil Singh Panoo, said he has yet to take instructions from his client on the decision.

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