In a potentially damaging ruling for online operators, the High Court in Austria has ordered Malta-licensed Bet-At-Home repay a problem gambler €950,000 he lost playing online roulette because its permit to offer the game was not valid in Austria.
The €1m claim by the individual from Upper Austria against Bet-At-Home, which has offices in Linz and Dusseldorf, had been rejected in the first instance by the court, but the Higher Regional Court this week found in his favour. The judgment should also be supportive to advocates of the country’s gambling monopoly, as the judge pointed out:
“[I]n relation to roulette games, the monopoly is inconsistent as currently applied. The defendant and its subsidiary companies would in fact have required a concession in accordance with the Austrian Federal Law on Games of Chance in order to offer an internet-based roulette game. Since the game was offered without an appropriate Austrian concession, the contracts between the defendant and the plaintiff were inadmissible and not legally binding. The plaintiff is therefore entitled to a full refund on his lost stakes.”
Bet-At-Home said it would be appealing to the Austrian Supreme Court. In the meantime, the judgment is suspended.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Christian Howarth of Rechtsanwaltskanlei Greiml & Horwath, however described Monday’s ruling as a “groundbreaking” judgment in support of the gambling monopoly. For the first time, gamblers based in Austria were now able to sue for losses incurred with online platforms such as bet-at-home, he said on Monday. “Austrian law is applied, which is important and positive for the protection of gamblers,” according to a quote reported by Krone.at.
The man had sued Bet-At-Home after his theft of €1,064,458 of company funds to gamble on the site came to light, with €950,000 of this wagered and lost on roulette. It was reported that he had excluded himself from several Austrian-licensed online casinos prior to gambling away more than €1m of his company’s money at Bet-At-Home in a period spanning June 2010 to April 2010.
“My staff member is highly intelligent and had forged everything so perfectly that I only noticed it when the money was gone”, the boss of the company was quoted as saying by Krone.at, in apparent explanation as to how the man’s use of company accounts to gamble over €1m on the Bet-At-Home website had gone undetected for so long.
Bet-At-Home’s founders Jochen Dickinger and Franz Ömer last year lost an important legal battle in Europe’s highest court, which confirmed that European gambling licences did not apply automatically in Austria. Dickinger and Ömer, supported by the Maltese government, had argued in an Austrian court that Malta regulations provided adequate consumer protection. The CJEU however disagreed, stating that in the absence of a harmonised regulatory system for remote gambling across the EU, Member States were entitled to do what they considered necessary to protect their citizens, as long as their actions were legitimate and proportionate.
The CJEU also ruled in July of this year that Austria’s refusal of advertising permits to two Slovenian online casino operators was justified on consumer protection grounds.
Article written by Stephen Carter