Austria Legal Advocacy Firm Advofin Plans Shakedown of EU Online Gambling Operators
An Austrian legal advocacy firm, Advofin, has launched what the vast majority of the European Union’s online-gambling operators are likely to view as an attmpted legal shakedown seeking full refunds for the country’s online gamblers and poker players, if any such players have lost as much as 3,000 euros with any single operator other than Austria’s own state-licensed lottery, win2day.at.
In Advofin’s pitch, which was published about a week ago, all other online-gambling firms who have offered their services to Austria’s online gamblers has done so illegally. Advofin’s pitch is that in exchange for pursuing settlements from EU-based companies or, if unsuccessful in that, receiving court-ordered judgments through the Austrian court system, it gets a slice of the proceeds.
According to a FAQ served up by Advofin, it will take in “a 37% stake in the process proceeds for assuming the process risk and financing all costs. In the case of an out-of-court settlement (before filing a claim), the shareholding ratio is reduced to just 19%.” Advofin promises to file its claims as class actions using third-party legal firms.
Besides the 3,000-euro minimum, Advofin claims to be willing to pursue refunds regarding funds lost on sites all the way back to January 1, 2013. Online casinos, online poker, synthetic lottos and such are all included, with the sole exception of sports betting, which a FAQ entry describes as “impossible” regarding the procurement of refunds.
Whether or not the firm’s plan will succeed is a wide, wide open question, but it’s the type of opportunistic manipulating that was made possible by the European Commission’s woeful decision in late 2017 to stop attempting to adjudicate EU-based online gambling disputes. Legal lampreying such as this thing from Advofin was assured to occur; the only unknowns were where and when.
The shakedown artist… ermm, advocacy group… admits that all the companies it will target are legally based in the EU, but insists that the sites are still illegal in Austria and Germany, a possible indicator that it may try the same ploy in Germany if its efforts in Austria bear fruit.
Advofin is of course targeting firms that have done large amounts of business in Austria’s online sphere. According to a puff piece the company managed to place at Austria’s Kurier (“Courier”, at kurier.at), “The process financier is not only targeting the well-known big players in the industry: bwin , Interwetten, Mr. Green, bet365, bet-at-home, 888 Holdings and Unibet. So are providers such as Progress Player with 51 online casinos and Aspire Global, a provider of gaming software, which operates 13 online casinos.”
AdvoFin’s CEO Gerhard Wüest added, “We offer all those injured by their gambling activities at Austria has suffered a loss for illegal online casinos, the opportunity to reclaim their losses in a cost and risk-free manner. We have some bad [luck] underneath, they lost a few thousand euros every day.”
One of Advofin’s lawyers, Sven Thorstensen, claims that some online companies have already paid back amounts of 10,000 to 100,000 euros in out-of-court settlements. The dubious claim was published by Kurier without supporting evidence.
Another planted piece, this one in Austria’s Chronik (“Chronicle”) serves up clickbait headlines such as “Authorities powerless against gambling mafia: imprisonment required,” while not actually stating anything about imprisonment claims. The Chronik piece does, however, quote the firm’s gameplan for the shakedown. Via Google Translate:
“The players are proven to play in Austria. We can prove that with the Internet Protocol addresses. There is another electronic track. The player usually buys these game packages via well-known payment service providers. We can use the evidence to prove how much a player has lost. That’s enough to sue in front of an Austrian court. Austria is thus the crime scene.
“Based on the OGH case lawyer has lawyer Thorstensen developed a strategy. Because: For example, in Malta based online casinos justify the alleged legality of their offer in Austria with the freedom to provide services in the EU. This means that admission in one EU country allows for work in other EU countries.
“Only in Germany and According to AdvoFin, Austria does not agree with that. In this country is the legal protection of the freedom to provide services. In other words, player protection stands for freedom to provide services. Without an Austrian gambling license, the game offer that the Austrian enters into in a contract with the online casino is thus void, that is to say invalid.
“Since internet casinos usually have no seat in Austria, they could ignore the AdvoFin lawsuits. Then a default judgment will be issued that can be executed in any EU country. We also look at where the operators are in Austria have accounts that we can block in court; this includes their accounts with financial services providers.”
It’s unknown the extent (if any) Austria’s state-run lotto has had in helping push this move forward, though that’s been a theme of similar monopoly-minded efforts in other countries. This one could get a bit messy. The betting line is that settlements will be few and far between, though it may cause some operators to rethink serving Austria until the matter is finalized, one way or the other.