12 December 2023

Online casinos must repay gamblers: what does this mean for the gambling industry?

Category: gambling law, Gaming law

The Dutch court has recently made a significant ruling with far-reaching consequences for the online gambling industry. Similar rulings have also been made in other countries. Online gambling companies Unibet and another casino are required by the court to repay substantial sums of money to gamblers. This decision has profound implications and raises interesting questions about the regulation of online gambling and the rights of players. We discuss the implications in this blog.

Agreements with unlicensed online casinos held to be void

Until October 2021, online gambling in the Netherlands was illegal. During this period, individuals lost significant amounts of money while engaging in online gambling. Many of them felt unfairly treated and believed that online gambling companies were responsible for their losses. Some of these gamblers decided to take legal action against the involved online gambling companies.

In these cases, the court ruled that at least two online gambling companies are obligated to refund money to the gamblers. One of the cases involves Unibet, where the company was ordered to repay €93,000. In the other case, involving an anonymous company, the amount is substantial at €124,000.

Consequences of rulings against illegal online gambling providers

In these legal cases, the court determined that online gambling companies were responsible for the gamblers’ losses. The court emphasized that online gambling was illegal in the Netherlands until October 2021, and the companies were aware of this situation.

This is a significant development in the regulation of online gambling. It highlights the duty of care that online gambling companies have toward their customers, even when the activity is illegal. The rulings raise questions about how the gambling industry should address the rights of players and what responsibility they bear.

Impact of court rulings on the gambling world

These rulings could have a substantial impact on the online gambling industry in the Netherlands and beyond. Online gambling companies are likely to reconsider their operations to comply with duty of care and respect the rights of players. This may result in stricter regulations and oversight of the sector.

Players will also become more aware of their rights and the responsibilities of gambling companies. This awareness may encourage them to take legal action if they believe their rights have been violated. It may also lead to a greater emphasis on responsible gambling and preventive measures to avoid gambling addiction.

Reclaiming money due to void agreements with online gambling companies

Article 3:40 of the Civil Code states the following:

  1. A legal act that, by its content or purpose, is contrary to good morals or public policy is void.
  2. Contravention of a mandatory legal provision leads to the nullity of the legal act, but if the provision exclusively aims to protect one of the parties to a multilateral legal act, it only leads to annulment, all to the extent that this does not follow otherwise from the purpose of the provision.

Lawsuit against Maltese gambling company

In a decision dated August 28, 2023, the court granted the money claim based on the nullity of a gambling agreement between a consumer and a professionally acting defendant.

The plaintiff bases the claim on the nullity of a gambling agreement concluded between the parties, which the plaintiff entered into as a consumer with the defendant engaging in commercial or professional activities, which, according to the plaintiff, are also directed at the Netherlands. The court does not find the claimed amount to be unlawful or unfounded and will be awarded as follows. The nullity of an agreement with a company that does not have the necessary government license follows from Article 3:40(2) of the Civil Code. It can be inferred from Article 6:203 of the Civil Code and subsequent articles that what is paid based on a void agreement can be reclaimed.

The Austrian and German case against online gambling company

In an Austrian and German judgment (and the German one), it concerns a claim for unjust enrichment. Apparently, [the creditor] gambled in an online casino that does not have the required license in Austria. Agreements that are not permitted, or not permitted without a license, are void. The Court assumes that this is the case under both Austrian law and Curaçao law (cf. GEA Curaçao April 5, 2019, ECLI: NL: OGEAC: 2019: 66).

No obligations arise from agreements with illegal gambling providers; in the absence of a specific statutory provision, the performances made on the basis of such agreements are performed without a legal basis, therefore, without any obligation. The claim for unjust enrichment is not included in the ‘claim … with regard to a debt arising from a game or a wager’ referred to in Article 7A:1807 of the Civil Code. Otherwise, the sanction of nullity would be completely undermined.

Illegal gambling providers run the risk of having to repay money

The recent rulings requiring online casinos to repay money to gamblers mark a crucial turning point in the regulation and players’ rights in the online gambling industry. It exposes the responsibility of online gambling companies to players, even when the activity was illegal in a specific country. These rulings have the potential to significantly change how online gambling companies operate and how players exercise their rights. It is a development that we must closely monitor and that may have implications for similar cases in other countries.

The regulatory and compliance team of Blenheim is happy  to assist and advice you.