files lawsuit in Schleswig-Holstein

Schleswig-Holstein has been forced to push back plans to rejoin the Interstate Gambling Treaty and is also facing lawsuits from bwin and mybet over allegedly delaying the issue of their online casino and poker licences.

The German federal’s state’s new bills to abolish its gambling law and join the new Interstate Gambling Treaty will receive their first reading in the German federal state’s parliament from 22-24 August. If the legislative package receives no veto from Brussels – all changes to EU Member State gambling laws need to be notified to the Commission – the Land could pass the laws by the end of this year or early 2013, clearing the way for  Schleswig-Holstein to join the new Interstate Treaty recently ratified by 14 of the other 15 federal states. This would effectively reinstate the prior ban on online poker and casino across the whole of Germany, given the Treaty which came into force on 1 July provides only for the issue of up to 20 sports betting licences to private operators.

But while the new SPD, Green and SSW ruling coalition announced following a meeting yesterday that first readings of the Approving Act (Zustimmungsgesetz) and the Repeal Act would take place from 22 August, or as “as quickly as possible” in the words of SPD leader Ralf Stegner, the new timetable represents a considerable delay on Stegner’s original plans to push through the changes by the end of this month. This followed concerns expressed by the Green Party, SSW and Home Office that pursuing a quick-fix approach to opting the Land back into the Treaty was too risky, given the potential for existing and/or potential licensees to sue for damages based on the principle of protection of trust.

“The goal is that the waiver process and the subsequent return to the State Treaty on Gaming happens safely and without claims for damages to the Land or penalties from the EU,”  the leader of Danish minority party SSW, Lars Harms was quoted as saying by Kieler Nachrichten. The Green Party’s finance minister Rasmus Andresen added that the coalition had now agreed on a process that ensured sufficient consultation time to consider all the legal and political implications.

However, the administrative Court of Schleswig-Holstein is already facing two so-called “public liability claims” from potential suppliers of online casino and poker, one from bwin and PartyPoker brand owner and the other, according to Gaming Intelligence, from mybet, both of which were among the seven companies that have already received online sports betting licences from Schleswig-Holstein. Their lawyers are arguing the SH government is deliberately delaying the issue of their online casino and poker licences, and have lodged a specifc type of legal action in the court to force it into fulfilling its legal obligation to issue these permits to bwin and mybet.

Schleswig-Holstein has 21 applications pending for licences covering the offer of online poker and casino games including roulette, baccarat and blackjack. 28 further applications have been received for online sports betting. Schleswig-Holstein’s act provides for the issue of unlimited licences across all products based on a 20% gross profit tax, a framework which received the full backing of the European Commission, unlike the federal framework.

Given the legal minefield, both the interior ministry and Stegner have said the seven six-year licences issued for online sports betting will likely remain valid, while interior minister Andreas Breitner has refused to rule out the issue of further licences while the state law is still in force, including the first for online casino and/or poker in the coming weeks.

Hans-Jörn Arp, parliamentary secretary of the CDU party, which pushed through the legislation with its FDP coalition partner before losing power in June’s elections, accused Stegner of taking SH into “a dead end” with his plans, which would do the Land “great harm” by depriving it of crucial tax revenues.

Casino Choice journalist

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