Top German state court: PokerStars must pay back €58k in pre-treaty losses

| By Marese O'Hagan
The Köln Higher Regional Court – the highest level of court in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen – has ruled that Pokerstars must reimburse a player’s losses because online casino was not yet legal in the state at the time the losses occurred.
regional court

In addition, the Köln Higher Regional Court’s decision overturned a lower-court decision that was upheld by the Bonn Regional Court. Law firm Dr Redell Rechtsanwaltsgesellschaft – which represented the player – said that such decisions made by the Bonn Regional Court “should now be a thing of the past”.

One such case, which may be the decision that was overturned, was a player reimbursement case dismissed by the Euskirchen District Court in May 2021. This also concerned an operator based in Malta that was operating in Germany. The dismissal was upheld by the Bonn Regional Court in December that same year. At the time, the judgement was the first such one issued by a German regional court.

Between March 2014 and June 2020, the plaintiff lost €58,517 by playing poker and blackjack on the Pokerstars.eu website. This period was before the Fourth State Treaty on Gambling (GlüNeuRStV) came into force, allowing slots and poker to be offered across Germany, instead of only in Schleswig-Holstein.

Not fully informed on legality of online casino

The law firm said that although the player could have been considered to be breaking the law, this did not mean their complaint was not valid.

The court noted that Pokerstars had not made it clear that online casino games were illegal in most of Germany, meaning that the plaintiff had not been fully informed.

“Contrary to the opinion of the regional court, this information provided by the plaintiff is not unrealistic from the outset, but rather understandable,” said the court. “From the plaintiff’s point of view, there were no compelling indications that spoke for the illegality of the defendant’s range of games.”

In addition, the court said that since the Pokerstars website had been displayed in German, this gave the impression that the service was legal.

“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 court said.

Dr Redell Rechtsanwaltsgesellschaft noted that the Köln Higher Regional Court is the highest-level court of appeal in Nordrhein-Westfalen and the second-highest in the country. This would suggest that any further appeals of this case would have to be at a federal level.

Earlier this year, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court ordered an unspecified operator to pay €26,000 in losses, as the plaintiff had gambled with the operator before the GlüNeuRStV came into force.

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