Latest Gambling News: Sweden’s Court Of Appeal Reduces Mr Green Fine, and more

Kat Pilkington

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June 3, 2024

Catch up on six of the stories our gambling compliance analysts have covered lately, and stay up-to-date on the latest news.

Sweden’s Court Of Appeal Reduces Mr Green Fine

Sweden’s Court of Appeal has issued a judgement in a case against William Hill-owned Mr Green, agreeing with the Swedish Gaming Authority’s (SGA) decision to issue it with a warning and impose a fine. However, the court’s decision dated May 27, 2024, reduced the fine to SEK12m (€1m), based on a May 2023 guiding ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court on how to calculate penalty fees for Gambling Act violations. The SGA said in an announcement on May 30 that the court agreed that “the duty of care also includes an obligation for license holders to independently limit a customer's gambling in order to counteract damage from excessive gambling”. “With regard to the customers in question, the Court of Appeal considers that the company has not acted promptly enough to counteract excessive gambling and has thereby breached the duty of care.” In 2021, the SGA announced its decision to issue a warning and fine Mr Green SEK31.5m in total for duty of care shortcomings and for not implementing sufficient money laundering risk assessments.  In 2022, the administrative court rejected Mr Green’s appeal, agreeing the warning and SEK31.5m fine was sufficient. However, the operator then took the case to the Court of Appeal.

In recent weeks, the SGA has won some appellate court cases and lost others, including a ruling upholding its penalties against five operators who were assessed more than €10m in total, but suffered defeat in its enforcement against payments company Zimpler.

Heathcliff Farrugia Sentenced Over Links To Alleged Assassination Ringleader

The former head of the Malta Gaming Authority, Heathcliff Farrugia, has been convicted over links to former casino mogul Yorgen Fenech, who is accused of orchestrating the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Farrugia was found guilty of supplying classified information to Fenech relating to a money laundering investigation taking place at one of his casinos.

Farrugia was given a conditional discharge on Tuesday, meaning he will avoid prison provided he does not commit another crime in the next three years.

The ex-MGA chief executive resigned in 2020 amid reports that he was being questioned by police over messages to Fenech found on his phone.

At the time, he said he was leaving to "pursue other employment opportunities".

Former casino operator Fenech was arrested while apparently attempting to flee Malta on a yacht and has been charged with orchestrating the 2017 assassination of Galizia, who frequently published stories detailing alleged corruption within the Maltese government.

Fenech denies the charges and alleges that the former government of Joseph Muscat was behind the killing. The Muscat administration itself collapsed in 2019 over alleged links to Fenech.

Farrugia’s predecessor as head of the MGA, Joseph Cuschieri, was himself accused of links to Fenech in 2020.

Betfair Flees Hungary, Regulator Says

Betfair has left the Hungarian grey market, according to gambling regulator SZTFH.

In a bulletin, posted on its website on May 24, the authority said that Betfair had sent a message to customers informing them it would no longer accept wagers from Hungary.

“With this, another multinational online gambling organisation company will stop its illegal activities in our country,” the regulator's bulletin said.

Betfair owner Flutter declined to comment on the regulator’s statement.

SZTFH said that Betfair has been on a blocklist since September and the operator does not have a local licence in Hungary.

Hungary’s gambling laws were reformed in 2023 after European courts said they overly favoured local operators, but over a year later, no international operators appear to have successfully entered the market.

Missouri Court Upholds Skill-Game Lawsuit’s Dismissal

The courts cannot protect Torch Electronics, Missouri’s largest distributor of skill games, from criminal prosecution for violating state gambling laws, the Western District Court of Appeals ruled.

In a unanimous ruling, the three-judge panel upheld a state court’s dismissal of the lawsuit seeking to prevent the Missouri State Highway Patrol from investigating the games in thousands of locations across the state.

“It is evident from Plaintiffs’ amended petition that their objective in bringing this lawsuit is to enjoin law enforcement from determining the devices are criminal and seizing them,” Judge Edward Ardini wrote in a ruling handed down on Tuesday.

“We are not persuaded by plaintiffs’ attempts to characterize their claim as one seeking declaratory judgment interpreting a civil statute.”

The ruling also upheld the dismissal of the Missouri Gaming Association’s claims that Torch operations caused a loss of business for its members and undermined the public policy of legal, regulated gaming.

“Missouri courts do not provide equitable relief that interferes with the enforcement of criminal law absent a challenge to the law’s constitutionality or validity,” Ardini wrote.

As of Wednesday (May 29), it was unknown if attorneys for Torch would appeal the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Kindred Gets Swedish Bonus Fine Reduced

Sweden’s Administrative Court of Appeal in Jönköping has reduced a past fine for improper bonuses lodged against a Kindred Group subsidiary by the Swedish Gambling Authority, Kindred said on Monday (May 27).

Stockholm-listed Kindred’s Spooniker unit had been fined SEK100m (€8.7m) by the authority in 2020 for violations of bonus rules in 2019.

But Kindred appealed the fine, claiming the rules were vague and open to interpretation, and the Administrative Court reduced the fine to SEK50m.

The Administrative Court of Appeal has further reduced the fine to 30m, Kindred said.

Kindred said it had changed its bonusing policies at the time, following guidance from the regulator.

Louisiana Lawmaker Ends Effort To Legalize Casino Contributions

A Louisiana state senator has dropped his controversial effort to remove the state’s ban on political campaign contributions by the gaming industry.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that Republican Senator Thomas Pressly cited public attention brought to the issue in his decision to end his efforts to lift the prohibition that had been in place since 1988.

Pressly’s amendment was added to House Bill 906 without public comment during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on May 20. The bill was introduced to revise the state’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.

On Thursday (May 23), senators approved Pressly’s request to strip the amendment from the bill. With the amendment removed, the Senate approved HB 906 by a vote of 29-5.

When the prohibition was put in place, Pressly said, there were concerns that casinos would come in and try to overwhelm the legislature and their actions.

“It is time to move past that,” Pressly told his colleagues during a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

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