April 24, 2008

Bwin Could Win In Germany

Bwin Interactive Entertainment, Germany’s largest private online sportsbetting and gambling company, may win a legal fight that threatens to obliterate a third of its take.

According to the Bloomberg news service, the Vienna-based company could succeed with lawsuits challenging a January ban in Germany on online sportsbetting on the basis that the prohibition, approved in all 16 German states, violates European Union (EU) law.

“It won't stand the test at the European Court of Justice,'' said Johannes Caspar, law professor at Hamburg University and a legal adviser to the Schleswig-Holstein State Legislature.

Bloomberg quoted the professor as stating that the EU's executive arm started ‘infringement proceedings’ against Germany in January over the new laws, a process that may lead to its own lawsuit.

The new prohibitions were the latest effort by the states to preserve their sportsbetting and lottery monopolies but Bwin has kept its German sites open as have competitors led by Sportingbet, 888 Holdings and PartyGaming. Although the firm lost an interim ruling last month in a case brought by one state, it has filed several lawsuits against the ban with some states counter-suing.

“One day a high court will clear up this mess,'' said Clemens Weidemann, attorney for Stuttgart-based Gleiss Lutz, who is representing Bwin in some of the cases.

Like Germany's constitutional court, the European Court of Justice has ruled in previous cases that the Government can regulate gaming markets if rules are ‘consistent and systematic’. However, Germany may not pass this test according to a January warning from the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.

The Commission cited Bwin's argument that the states’ rules are inconsistent, as they don't apply to horse betting, slot machines or electronic devices in gambling halls.

“You can't explain that you need a monopoly for dog-race betting but don't need it when horses are running,” said Weidemann.