In what might be a landmark case for the gambling industry, a court in Austria has awarded a vulnerable user €2.6m ($2.98m; £2.30m) in compensation.
An expert declared the claimant “partially incapacitated” by his addiction, which in turn rendered his bets void, according to the verdict.
The court in Wiener Neustadt ordered that Novomatic, the gaming company defendant, pay out a large amount of compensation to the addict, who had been playing slot machines for over ten years.
It was thought that the complainant had spent approximately €2m ($2.3m; £1.77m) between 2002 and 2012 and had stopped just three years before the Austrian government banned slot machines that are located outside casinos.
The plaintiff said that his addiction was so severe that he could not work, which is what motivated the legal action. The judgment, made public early this week, said the gambler was “under the influence of addiction” when the bets were made, which rendered the bets invalid.
The loss for Novomatic is not their first, and it is understood the company will be appealing the ruling in coming weeks or months.
The court heard that the machines, supplied by Novomatic, were accessible in a wide range of locations including shops and gas stations. The ease of access to the machines was restricted in January 2015 when the government banned slot machines outside casinos.
The ban was passed with the aim of reducing problem gambling, especially among low-income users. The ruling also stated that the machines used by the anonymous complainant allowed bets so high that they violated rules that were in place at the time to regulate the stakes played on gaming machines.
Uk Bookmaker in a Similar Case
A similar case emerged in the UK just this month when bookmaker Mark Jarvis was ordered to pay £94,000 ($122,000) in compensation to a woman who became addicted to fixed odds betting machines at the shop in Leicester.
The woman spent £34,000 ($44,141) in less than two years on just one machine; of this amount, she stole £11,250 ($14,620) from her employer. Between September 2016 and February 2017, the customer used money stolen from her employer to fund her gambling. The machine in question had a maximum stake of £100 ($130), which is well above the proposed £2 ($2.60) limit the British government plans to introduce.
Courts found that the bookmaker was in breach of the Social Responsibility Code, which states that companies must have policies about when to refuse to allow a client to place more bets. The report on the case said: “Staff were aware of lengthy periods of time spent by the customer in the premises, but this did not raise concerns and was not considered a sign of potential problem gambling issues. In addition, the customer’s level of spending was sufficiently unusual to warrant further investigation, but this did not take place.”
Fixed-odd betting terminals were introduced in the UK in 2001 and have led to a wide range of issues that have been debated in Parliament ever since. Last year, a report by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling used statistics from the Gambling Commission to show how much money people in different areas lost on fixed odds betting machines.
The combined estimate for Leicester was that about £9.7 m ($9.27m) was lost in 2016. Mark Jarvis has around 40 shops in the city and surrounding counties.
Gambling Addiction Affects People Globally
Figures show that gambling addiction affects large numbers of people worldwide, with the United States having one of the highest percentages of problem gamblers.
In 2016, almost 10 million US citizens suffered from gambling addiction, which equates to around 2.6% of the population. In the UK, 1.1% of people were addicted to gambling, with the percentage highest among the unemployed and homeless.
Canada is also badly affected by the consequences of problem gambling, with 25% of its population negatively impacted by the results of gambling addiction either directly or indirectly, through job loss, depression, or divorce.
Fixed odds betting machines are the focus of several governments’ crackdowns on problem gambling, and cases such as these are likely to intensify the crackdown.