In a case that was to result in a reduction of the Ghosh two-step dishonesty test, a professional card player is left with no choice but to pursue his winnings in the courts when the gaming establishment liable for the payout, cries foul on the pretence of cheating, which itself proves a concept that continues to elude judicial narrowness due to its mutable interpretation and seemingly countless applications.
Having established himself as reputable ‘advantage’ poker player in his home country of the United States, the appellant had spent a considerable number of hours playing Punto Banco at the respondents gambling house in Mayfair London, when at the point of his retirement, he had amassed winnings in excess of £7.7m, after which the respondents refused to release the funds on the premise that when playing against the house, the appellant had resorted to a number of techniques that were considered violative of the rules of play.
With no option other than to litigate, the appellant appeared before the Court of the Queen’s Bench, claiming recovery of his winnings while the respondents held that in short, the appellant had ‘cheated’ under s.42 of the Gambling Act 2005, which reads in part that:
“(1) A person commits an offence if he (b) cheats at gambling….”
While the Act also notes that:
(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) cheating at gambling may, in particular, consist of actual or attempted deception or interference in connection with (a) the process by which gambling is conducted….”
In the first instance, the court noted that there was uncertainty as to whether the element of dishonesty was applicable to a claim of cheating, or if by definition, the act itself denoted dishonest intent, regardless of objective or subjective jury opinion, all of which left the court unable to determine if s.42 had in fact been breached, and so instead concluded that such claims would be best remedied in a civil court, thus the claim was dismissed, while the court held that:
“What precisely is condemned as cheating by section 42 of the 2005 Act and what must be proved to make out the offence is not, in my view, clear and it would be unwise if it is unnecessary, as it is, for me to attempt to determine what that might be.”
Whereupon the appellant pursued his claim in the Court of Appeal, who conversely held by a majority that the Ghosh test had no place in a cheating scenario, and was thus inapplicable to s.42 of the 2005 Act, although it was held by Lady Justice Arden that:
“[A] person may be liable to a criminal penalty for cheating if he deliberately interferes with the process of a game so that the game is then played to his or another’s advantage in a way which was never intended by the participants.”
And so when presented to the Supreme Court, the appellant continued his line of argument, while the court attempted to establish if dishonesty as defined by Ghosh, was to become an integral part of cheating under the 2005 Act, and if so, whether the appellant was guilty, and thereby liable for sentencing.
For clarity, the Ghosh test for dishonesty was based on the principle that:
“It is no defence for a man to say “I knew that what I was doing is generally regarded as dishonest; but I do not regard it as dishonest myself. Therefore I am not guilty.” What he is however entitled to say is “I did not know that anybody would regard what I was doing as dishonest.””
Thus having provided a thorough examination of the case itself, along with the mottled history behind the Ghosh test, the court took the liberty of simplifying the dishonesty test through the removal of the subjective element, and so while finding the appellant liable for cheating through his manipulation of the croupier, the court dismissed the appeal, while revising their standing on dishonesty by holding that:
“When dishonesty is in question the fact-finding tribunal must first ascertain (subjectively) the actual state of the individual’s knowledge or belief as to the facts. The reasonableness or otherwise of his belief is a matter of evidence (often in practice determinative) going to whether he held the belief, but it is not an additional requirement that his belief must be reasonable; the question is whether it is genuinely held. When once his actual state of mind as to knowledge or belief as to facts is established, the question whether his conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact-finder by applying the (objective) standards of ordinary decent people. There is no requirement that the defendant must appreciate that what he has done is, by those standards, dishonest.”