German Lawyers Question Enforceability of Latest Bwin Verdict

12 September 2008

A regional court in Germany on Thursday upheld a previous decision banning Bwin Interactive Entertainment, the Austria-based operator, from offering its services in the country, but two German legal experts do not think the decision will make much difference in the end for the operator.

The case relates to ongoing federal proceedings instigated against Bwin in September 2004 by WestLotto, one of 16 state-run lotteries in Germany.

WestLotto, which calls home the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has sued Bwin for unfair competition. It argues that by offering its services to German citizens, Bwin's international offering, which is licensed in Gibraltar, was in breach of German law and therefore had an unfair advantage with regard to domestic sports betting and gambling services.

Following a ruling in Cologne Regional Court in September 2007 that upheld a previous ruling banning Bwin from operating in Germany, the operator requested a suspension of the ban. Thursday's decision at the same court, however, upholds the ban and opens Bwin up to fees for contempt if they do not comply with the ruling.

Wulf Hambach, a gaming lawyer with Hambach & Hambach in Germany, told IGamingNews that while it's not a favorable decision for Bwin, he does not put much faith in its enforceability.

"From the international enforcement law treaties in the European Union I see it highly difficult to enforce, especially on the grounds that they (Bwin) hold a valid license in Gibraltar and it's legal what they're doing in Gibraltar," Mr. Hambach said.

He added that he would like to see if the Gibraltar authorities are willing to assist the German authorities in enforcing the decision against Bwin.

Meanwhile, the Federal Court of Justice recently decided in favor of corporate bookmakers, according to Martin Arendts, a gaming lawyer at German firm Arendts Anwälte.

"There were four decisions on the 14th of February, 2008, and they decided against WestLotto and against other state operators," he said. "So, I expect that the Federal Court of Justice will decide in favor of Bwin."

The main court case, which will decide whether the ban on Internet gambling in Germany is legal, is pending at the German Federal Court of Justice.

Westlotto -- and other German lotteries -- have filed suits against almost all private bookmakers from other European Union member states on the same grounds.

Kevin O'Neal, a press officer with Bwin, could not be reached for comment by press time.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.