Litigation finance companies that have successfully sued online gambling companies for player refunds in Austria are now pressing claims in Malta, where many of the operators are headquartered.
More than a dozen cases have been filed in Malta against companies including William Hill’s Mr Green, Flutter Entertainment’s PokerStars and N1 Interactive, and a representative for one litigation company says more civil suits are coming.
Just one company, AdvoFin, claims to have won more than €50m in Austrian settlements and judgments for clients and €6m in Germany.
The judgments seem to have become a mini-industry, with companies such as Padronus and LegalHelp also jostling for Austrian clients.
But Maltese courts have yet to rule on whether such judgments are enforceable in Malta, said Davinia Cutajar of WH Partners.
Still, Stefan Bohar, an AdvoFin director, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance that EU law suggests that resolution of the Malta cases should be a simple matter, “as any enforceable judgment rendered in a member state has to be enforceable in another [EU] country”.
Another Austrian lawyer agrees that the current Maltese proceedings “will be decisive”.
The online gambling defendants are arguing that their terms and conditions hold that Maltese courts have jurisdiction, so Maltese law applies, said Christian Rapani, an Austria-based lawyer.
But “there is robust case law from Austrian courts that this is not the case”, he said. “In these cases, Austrian courts have jurisdiction and Austrian law is applicable.”
Rapani and other Austrian lawyers recently questioned whether the refund cases were getting a proper hearing in Austria itself.
Some cases have been closed in four minutes or less, which seems to preclude attorneys from arguing that there are procedural failures in the plaintiffs’ cases, said Nicholas Aquilina of Brandl Talos.
“This is not in line with fair trial principles,” he said.
The attorneys were speaking at last month’s SiGMA conference in Malta.
Rapani said legislation might be needed to provide more transparency in Austria, as it is not always clear who is funding the players’ lawsuits.
The lawyers also wondered whether a litigation finance company carried the same rights to a refund of player losses as the players themselves.
Companies offering online gambling in Austria without an Austrian licence have been pounded with claims seeking to recover losses from online casinos.
The Austrian Supreme Court has held that the monopoly held by Casino Austria’s win2day is not incompatible with EU law, opening the door to the claims.
Last year, Bet-at-Home decided to leave the Austrian market, citing losses due to the level of player refunds.
Gambling operators need to understand, the Austrian player refund issue “is here to stay”, Rapani told the SiGMA audience in November. “It will not go away. We want to help them bleed less.”
Similar claims for refunding online casino losses have arisen in Germany, but various regional courts have ruled differently.
Similar suits have also been filed in the Netherlands, where online gambling licences have only been available since October 2021.