Affleck’s had his chips

A salutary warning to each and every Oscar-winning actor whose favourite spare time activity is card counting

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As a devious gambling tycoon in the film Runner Runner, Ben Affleck knew a thing or two about how to ensure that the house always wins.
In real life, however, the Oscar-winning actor appears to have turned the tables on the casino industry, taking the Hard Rock in Las Vegas for hundreds of thousands of dollars through the legal but frowned-upon practice of card-counting.
Now it seems that the high-rolling Affleck, 41, may have had his chips after the casino barred him from its blackjack tables for life, with surveillance officers reportedly declaring his advantage playing “way too obvious.”
“You’re too good at the game,” Hard Rock security managers are said to have told him as they escorted the actor from the blackjack tables and found him and his wife, actress Jennifer Garner, a cab back to their hotel.
It was not the first time that Affleck – an accomplished gambler and one-time contestant in the World Series of Poker alongside fellow screen star Matt Damon – has been accused of underhand practices at the card tables.

In 2011, he was named in a lawsuit as being one of several Hollywood A-listers who were members of a clandestine gambling ring in California. Fellow members included Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio, the lawsuit alleged.

Affleck, a father of three, caught the attention of casino officials during what was to have been a low-key get-away with his wife prior to him settling into filming of the highly anticipated “Batman vs Superman” movie. He was “backed off’ by Hard Rock officials – a term used when a player is evicted from blackjack but still allowed to take a hand in other games – after they observed him allegedly employing “perfect basic” – a beginner’s method of card counting.

Card counting is a mathematical strategy that can be used by players to bet bigger sums at less risk, by keeping a running tally of the distribution and location of certain cards over a number of games. It is not illegal, though the use of devices, or of signs and signals between players, to compile or communicate the information, is. There is no suggestion that Affleck had devices or accomplices.

“Just having a brilliant mind counting cards is fine,” said James Taylor of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, though the practice is not tolerated by casinos for the financial advantage it affords gamblers.

A warning circulated to other Las Vegas casinos on April 29 on a system known as the Surveillance Information Network, stated that Affleck was “suspected of advantage play,” according to Star magazine, which claimed to have obtained a copy.

A similar alert had also been issued days earlier, stating that Affleck had been spreading bets of up to $20,000 a time on ‘shoe games’ of blackjack, according to the magazine. Shoe games involve as many as six decks of cards.

“Putting out a spread of that much is absolutely unheard of and absurd,” a Las Vegas insider told Star.

“While playing at a table, Ben was asked repeatedly to stop card counting. However, he would not stop. The casino staff told Ben that he was being too obvious.”

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Family of murdered Briton talks

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For an entire year Helen and Theo Gobat watched their son, Ollie, fight for survival, marvelling at the 13-year-old’s unbreakable spirit and his refusal to be defeated by cancer.

After his recovery, a process punctuated by 19 stays in hospital and gruelling treatment at the Royal Marsden hospital in Sutton, Surrey, he went on to celebrate his second chance at life with sporting and business endeavours that earned him friends in high places and respect around the world.

When a second near-tragedy threatened to take his life three years ago, after he was run over by a speedboat off St Lucia and suffered severe head injuries, his family gathered around once again to see Mr Gobat — nicknamed Simba the Lion as a teenager for his strength and wisdom — pull through.

“I’ve rehearsed his death in my mind so many times, but not like this,” Mrs Gobat wept yesterday, four days after her son was ambushed and murdered on the island’s scenic Cap Estate. He was 38.

“It seems so cruel, so cruel. I don’t know why God had to go to him three times to do it,” she said.

A gentle breeze tickles the bougainvillea bushes dotted around the Cap Maison hotel, which Mr and Mrs Gobat opened in 2008 with Ollie and his brothers Rufus, 44, and Adam, 41, as co-owners. A fountain gushes in the courtyard. Guests drift around the clifftop terrace sipping from glasses of fruit punch, or stretch on the sandy beach below.

The serenity contrasts with the ugly brutality of Mr Gobat’s death. His body was discovered after local people reported seeing smoke and his burning Range Rover was found on an unpaved track. His badly burnt corpse was on the front passenger seat.

Speculation over a motive for the killing has run wild. Residents wonder about possible business feuds, personal vendettas, disputes over land, property or debts. There is talk that he was shot in the head, that he was the victim of an internationally organised hit.

None of it, say the Gobats, makes sense.

“Ollie had friends from the beach vendor to the prime minister,” said Rufus, who has spent hours talking to detectives. “He was a gentleman, he was polite, he was kind, respectful, a very honest business person, ethical, strong morals. It’s very difficult to find anyone who has a bad word to say about Ollie.”

The family is well thought-of in St Lucia for the tens of millions of dollars of investment and tourism they have brought to the island in the 42 years since they first came.

On Tuesday Kenny Anthony, the prime minister of St Lucia, met the family at his official residence, offering condolences.

The last that was heard of Mr Gobat was when he texted his girlfriend at 6.30pm last Friday after a game of golf, to say that he would see her at home later. He never showed up.

His parents, at their home in Esher, Surrey, learnt in a Skype call with Rufus on Saturday that a corpse had been found in his burnt-out car.

“At first I thought maybe it wasn’t his car, maybe he’d escaped and gone into the bushes and the body wasn’t him. I wondered if perhaps people should go out there shouting ‘Ollie, Ollie, Ollie’ to find him,” his mother recalled.

Theo, her husband, sobbed as he recalled how the family celebrated his 75th birthday in February with a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and his last meeting with Ollie in St Lucia this month. “We’re a very close family and we’ll get through this,” he said. “This hasn’t shaken our faith in St Lucia.”

Rufus has told his two daughters, Gracie, seven, and Freya, six, that their Uncle Ollie died in a car crash, because the truth is too awful.

On Saturday the family expects about 500 people at a celebration of his life. Gracie has penned a eulogy, which she will stand up and read to the crowd, recalling him in his trademark pork pie hat, and of him throwing her in the air and catching her in the swimming pool.

“We were looking at the birds outside this morning and Gracie wondered if one of them was Ollie,” Mrs Gobat said. “She said hummingbirds are spirits coming back to be with us again.”