PokerStars and its parent company, Flutter Entertainment, has been ordered by a German appellate court to refund more than €58,000 in net losses to a gambler who played on PokerStars from Germany between 2014 and 2020, in alleged violation of Germany’s ban on services being offered to its citizens by at-the-time-unlicensed operators.
The appellate ruling, rendered on October 31, 2022 by the Oberlandesgericht (OLG) Köln (Cologne Higher Regional Court), reverses a decision in PokerStars’ favor previously issued by the Bonn Regional Court, where the unnamed gambler’s greivances were first heard.
The gambler player both poker and blackjack on PokerStars’ international site, which was made available in Germany for several years while the country repeatedly reworked its outdated online-gambling laws. PokerStars was only one of numerous operators who provided some online services to German gamblers during this period.
German civil attorney releases presser on ruling
News of the adverse ruling was published on a German legal news website by an attorney whose firm represents the claims of such litigants. Dr. Patrick Redell, a compensation-law specialist for Luther Rechtsanwaltsgesellschaft mbH, published his report on the ruling at his own Redell.com blog and at Anwalt.de, a site where German law firms market their services. Redell’s practice actively seeks litigants against online-gambling sites. Redell did not address whether he or his firm represented the unnamed German poker player in this matter.
According to Redell, the Cologne higher court ruled that PokerStars’ offering its services and support in German, without providing a specific disclaimer that the site was not necessarily licensed in Germany, was sufficient cause to order that the gambler be refunded his losses. The Cologne court also gave little weight to Stars’ claims that the gambler was time-barred from pursuing his case, or that international law — because the services were offered from servers in Malta — trumped German law in this case.
Redell did acknowledge that PokerStars and Flutter still had the option to appeal the ruling into Germany’s federal court system. As the matter currently stands, PokerStars could also be assessed punitive damages to be awarded to the player. “Negative decisions by the [Bonn court] should now be a thing of the past.
Redell did provide an excerpt from the Cologne court ruling to add trustworthiness to his report, which included the following: “Contrary to the opinion of the district court, this information provided by the plaintiff is not unrealistic from the outset, but rather understandable. From the plaintiff’s point of view, there were no compelling indications that spoke for the illegality of the defendant’s range of games. Clear indications on the website operated by the defendant, There was no evidence that online gambling was illegal in Germany — with the exception of a limited offer in Schleswig-Holstein. Rather, the German-language website and the German-language customer service gave the impression of legality. (…). The legality of the offer had to be ruled out. From the plaintiff’s point of view, he was able to register on the defendant’s homepage without further ado from his place of residence in North Rhine-Westphalia and set up a so-called player account.(…)“
Flutter Entertainment has not issued any press or investor-relations statement on the matter, nor did Redell address the issue of whether other related claims from Germany’s years of licensing-related market confusion could be litigated or would now be time-barred. Given that uncertainty, the recent ruling could be a matter of some interest for the company and its shareholders, due to any legal exposure additional claims could present.
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