BGH: Sports betting losses must be repaid – Betano is threatened with a wave of lawsuits

For months, players across Germany have been suing sports betting providers for repayment of their losses. Now the Federal Court of Justice has made a decision that could be groundbreaking – against, of all things, a sponsor of the 2024 European Championship.

There are 24 pages that seem as inconspicuous as they are incomprehensible to laypeople: a mountain of paragraphs, inserts, brackets and references. And then there is this one sentence in the cover letter that sums everything up: “With the attached decision of March 22, 2024, the Senate has now announced and justified in great detail that the opposing appeal could not be successful.”

The previously unpublished document is signed stern is available, from Matthias Siegmann, lawyer at the Federal Court of Justice (BGH). Siegmann is thus announcing a position from the BGH that is likely to be groundbreaking: According to Germany’s highest court, players who have lost money in sports betting in the past can claim their losses back from the providers.

BGH passes a decision against EM sponsor Betano: sports betting before 2021 was illegal in Germany

The BGH’s decision is remarkable on several levels. First of all, there is the defendant: “Betkick Sportwetten Service GmbH”, based in Austria, is the company that also offers sports betting in Germany under the “Betano” brand. But Betano is not only one of many betting providers, but also a sponsor of the European Football Championship Uefa Euro 2024 in Germany.

The European Championship was expected to bring record sales for the betting industry. Instead, UEFA’s official sports betting sponsor may be drowning in a wave of lawsuits two months before the start of the tournament.

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For a long time it was not clear whether sports betting was permitted or prohibited in Germany. The courts are dealing with cases from 2012 to 2021. During this time, the sports betting market in Germany was liberalized – but the state was unable to cope with the rush of providers applying for a license. The authorities no longer issued licenses at all. There were no legal providers at that time. But the betting companies kept that to themselves and took advantage of this legal gray area to aggressively push into the market, true to the motto: As long as something is not banned, it is allowed. Players in Germany will only be able to legally bet on sports from 2022.

BGH follows the plaintiffs’ arguments

But it wasn’t and isn’t that simple. Players from all over Germany have been suing sports betting providers for several years. Their argument: Until 2021 there was no German license for sports betting, so the bets were not permitted. Accordingly, the companies have to pay them back their losses. The betting providers, in turn, rely on European licenses that were issued in Malta, for example. They would have legalized their offer. Opinions – and the courts – have differed over the past few months and years as to whether German or European law applies.

“As long as the Federal Court of Justice has not made a decision, the courts in the lower instance do not know exactly where to go,” explains lawyer Thomas Schopf, who represents the plaintiff in the current case against Betano stern. Although there are mostly judgments in favor of the plaintiffs, there are also some dissenters, says Schopf. Now these judges would also march towards the BGH, the lawyer expects.

With its decision, the Federal Court of Justice has now shown that it is leaning in a “consumer-friendly” direction and is thus following the arguments of many plaintiffs: No German license, i.e. no permission, and therefore also inadmissible betting losses that have to be repaid.

The decision is not a judgment and therefore not legally binding – the BGH emphasized this when asked sternitself. However, one reads a recommendation in it, and the lower authorities usually adhere to the trend.

A few cases have ended up before the BGH in recent months. But the previously planned trials fell through – in some cases just a few days before the trial date. The last time such a case occurred was in mid-March, when there was a lawsuit against the provider Tipico. Just two days before the hearing, the meeting was canceled because the company was able to reach an agreement with the plaintiff. Critics and lawyers accuse the betting companies of avoiding a verdict by making comparatively high settlement offers in order to avoid setting a precedent.

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Attorney Siegmann emphasizes in his letter: “Apparently the Senate feared that this procedure could also be compared before it had the opportunity to comment. The procedure is in the tradition of the actions of the Eighth Civil Senate in the diesel complex.”

Betano is the first betting provider to sponsor a European Championship

The car manufacturer also tried to avoid a generally valid verdict in the scandal surrounding Volkswagen’s manipulated diesel software. In the case of sports betting, the decision already massively increases the pressure on providers, said Schopf. Even if there is no verdict in the near future, the document should at least increase the willingness of betting providers to make comparisons – for many former gambling addicts perhaps a chance to get their own finances back under control.

For Betano, however, the decision comes at a bad time: the 2024 European Championships will start in Germany in just under two months. Betano acts as a sponsor and was probably hoping for big money because the logo is on almost every advertising board at the European Championship. But instead of new customers, plaintiffs could soon be lining up. Instead of depositing money, they could claim back losses.

And the case also casts a bad light on UEFA. It is the first time in the association’s history that a betting provider is sponsoring a European Championship. The questions as to whether the BGH’s decision against Betano would have an impact on future cooperation or whether UEFA knew that its partner may have offered sports betting illegally were left unanswered. Likewise, whether it wouldn’t have made more sense to work with a prevention campaign and not with a company that earns at least part of its income from betting addicts. UEFA had not responded to this by the time of going to press.

By the way, the few players who have actually recorded winnings from their sports bets in recent years don’t need to be nervous. The providers have no right to reclaim winnings, said Schopf. These claims are only permissible if the injured party did not know that the bets were taking place without a license. The players were often not aware of this – but the providers were.

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