A professional American poker player who sued a Saudi sheikh for alleged unpaid winnings of $2.8 million (£2.2m) from a game in the French Riviera has lost on grounds that it is a game of “chance” requiring no "physical skill and exercise”.
The court in Grasse issued its verdict after a trial in which Rick Salomon, 51, a professional player and former husband of Pamela Anderson, the actress, claimed that Raad al-Khereiji, 59, a member of one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families, owed him the debt.
In the trial in October, the judges heard that Mr Salomon had tried and failed to get Mr Khereiji to pay the alleged debts since the 2014 game of the Texas hold’em version of poker at the Tiara Miramar Beach hotel, near Cannes.
The case hinged on a law dating back to 1804 that limits the type of gaming debts enforceable by the courts to those “involving weapons, foot or horse racing, chariot races, tennis and other games of the sort which involves physical skill and exercise”.
Mr Khereiji’s lawyer argued that poker was a game of chance, not physical skill and movement. Mr Salomon’s lawyer insisted that the game had lasted an “energy-consuming” 48 hours.
Speaking minutes after the verdict dropped, Mr Khereiji’s lawyer, Paul-Albert Iweins, said that while he was yet to see the judge’s explanation for the ruling came “as no surprise”.
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“The only explanation is that his request was contrary to law,” he told the Telegraph. “There was an infinitely small chance of winning because even supposing there was such a debt, which my client totally contests, you cannot pursue someone in France for a gambling debt, full stop.”
Mr Salomon’s France-based lawyer, Ronald Sokol, said that he would consult with his American colleagues to decide whether to appeal the verdict.
“It was an uphill fight; the bottom line is that the rule whereby you cannot recover on a gambling debt unless you meet certain conditions was upheld,” he said.
Those conditions, he said were that the court rule poker was “a game of skill and involved the exercise of the body”. “While I didn’t have much trouble showing it was a game of skill, these two cumulative conditions were not met.”
He said that Mr Salomon had won two smaller court victories – first the court rejected a request he pay the Saudi’s sheikh’s legal fees.
Second, it had authorised the use of gambling records obtained from Los Vegas that showed Mr Khereiji was an avid gambler. During the trial, the court heard that several players had been at the game when, after a heavy losing streak, Mr Khereiji told Mr Salomon that he would have his lawyer in Los Angeles arrange payment of the debt. The lawyer contacted Mr Salomon seven months later to say that no payment would be made, as the Sheikh believed the game was a “friendly part with no financial stake”.
“We obtained that through a US court order all Mr Kheriji’s gambling records in Las Vegas which show he spent $34 million in 29 months in the Ivey Room (at the Aria Resort and Casino and since renamed Table 1) where the minimum bet is $100,000”, he said.
“We are considering taking this all the way to the French supreme court as the French rule on gambling debts has been in effect since 1804. There has been no case law since in the civil courts,” he added.
Mr Salomon is known for marketing a sex-tape of an encounter with Paris Hilton, a previous girlfriend, in 2004.