Sunday 25 September 2016

‘You’ve just got to be lucky’ - How JP McManus won €15m in a board game with US billionaire

The Sundance Kid was the talk of Punchestown this week - but more for his wins off the track, writes Niamh Horan

Published 01/05/2016 | 02:30

GAME ON: supremo racehorse owner JP McManus, who won €15m playing a marathon three-day game against US billionaire Alec E Gores in November 2012 (Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE)
GAME ON: supremo racehorse owner JP McManus, who won €15m playing a marathon three-day game against US billionaire Alec E Gores in November 2012 (Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE)
Tina Turner poses with a backgammon board

A little bit of skill and a lot of luck. That's what the billionaire racehorse owner JP McManus said when asked about his astonishing gambling exploit - winning more than $17m playing the ancient game of backgammon.

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It's a game once played by dynasties in Persia, and held the court of King Louis IX of France in such thrall that he banned it entirely.

But throughout its rich history, it's unlikely anyone has ever won as much money rolling a dice and moving checkers around a board as the man they call the Sundance Kid.

Ireland's eighth richest man spoke for the first time about his extraordinary gambling victory over Alec E Gores, a private equity mogul, when I met him in the parade ring at Punchestown. Though lashed by rain and hail and just minutes after one of his horses fell, he couldn't keep the smile from his face.

Winning the equivalent of €15.2m in US greenbacks was simply down to an Irishman's luck. Asked about the qualities you need to pull off such an audacious gamble, he said that "a little bit" of skill was important but that it was imperative to just "be lucky, be lucky, be lucky".

He added: "You always feel good after winning," and agreed that his stroke of outrageous fortune was "a feel-good story".

The victory came after the two men "engaged in a serious backgammon match" over three days in November 2012, and was first revealed in court papers in the USA.

JP's high-powered legal team are taking on the might of the US tax authorities - the Internal Revenue Service.

He is suing Uncle Sam for the return of $5.2m in gambling winnings - part of the money he won from Mr Gores, also appropriately enough a billionaire with deep pockets. Mr Gores is an investor who made his fortune through leveraged buyouts of technology firms, and Forbes Magazine estimated his net worth in 2015 at $2.1bn - roughly about the same as JP.

The game with Mr Gores lasted a heady three days and was played on US soil. McManus won the marathon match and Mr Gores paid up like a gent. However, Mr Gores withheld a portion of the cash ($5.2m) and handed it over to the US Treasury to "cover any potential US Federal Tax liability".

Mr McManus wants the rest of the pot and is suing the US government, arguing that his earnings were exempt from US taxes because of the 1997 double taxation treaty between the US and Ireland.

It is rare the businessman speaks to the media about anything other than his first love, National Hunt racing.

At Punchestown, the name of one of his horses playfully mocked his reluctance to talk publicly.

The horse is called No Comment. And, naturally, it won.

Sunday Independent

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