February 11, 2010

France courts have no jurisdiction, say Bwin, Sportingbet, Unibet

acting for Bwin, Sportingbet and Unibet, three of the four defendants in a law suit brought in the French courts by a group of French casinos for alleged unfair competition, have called into question the right of the French legal system to judge them.

As reported earlier, casino groups Barrière, Joagroupe, Tranchant and Casinos de France trade union allege that the four operators offering casino games contravenes current gaming legislation and of new egaming laws set to come into effect in June, and are pursuing a symbolic payment of €1 damages, plus €30,000 to cover their legal costs, and will ask for the publication of the court’s judgement in the main French daily newspapers.

However Olivier Gutkes, acting for Bwin, said the use of the French language as one of the 22 languages available on the Bwin site “did not give the French judge the competence” to judge the complaint brought against his client, which operates from Gibraltar.

Martine Karsenty-Ricard, acting for Sportingbet, made the same argument, saying that as the operator’s servers were not based in France, the company could not be prosecuted in France.

Unibet’s lawyer, Dominique Santacru said the casino groups’ additional allegations of the four operators having deprived the French State of tax revenues and of not ’upholding the principles of player protection and fighting against problem gambling, fraud and money laundering’ are matters of public order, and the casino groups could not substitute themselves for the French State.

Santacru added that the plaintives could not claim a loss of financial income since they were not able to evaluate the exact amount of said loss.

In response, Thibault de Montbrial, representing the casino groups, admitted he was unable to establish the amount of the financial loss suffered by his clients since “no one knows the turnover of online casinos (taking bets) in France”. However, he insisted that offline casinos were “tributary of a public service”, as the French state awards the operating licences under strict conditions.

The legal tussle between egaming operators and the French land-based casino groups could help defining a national legal framework, such as was the case in the Santa Casa verdict published by the European court of Justice in September last year.

None of the defendants were willing to comment while the case was ongoing.

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