The main trouble with oral contracts is that, in the absence of a professionally drafted document, it can be very hard to tell what, if anything, has in fact been agreed. The High Court faced exactly that difficulty in the case of a gambler who claimed that he was offered a substantial incentive to play at a London club.
Over five nights playing at the club, the gambler – who was a recognised ‘high-roller’ or VIP gambler – staked over £27 million at the roulette wheel and won over £1.24 million. He was paid his winnings, but asserted that he was additionally entitled to an incentive payment of £243,518, a sum representing 0.9 per cent of his table turnover. He launched proceedings after the club refused to pay that sum.
He contended that he had reached a binding oral agreement with a representative of the club that he would receive such an incentive. Other casinos keen to attract his custom routinely offered him similar incentives and he asserted that he would not have played at the club had such an arrangement not been settled upon.
Dismissing his claim, however, the Court found that his negotiations with the club’s representative in respect of a possible incentive had never proceeded beyond the discussion stage. His belief that the club had made a contractual commitment was mistaken. A firm offer had neither been made nor accepted; the club had merely issued an invitation to treat and no agreement at all had been reached. Having received his winnings, the gambler was entitled to no further sum.