Operating Casinos in the Czech Republic during COVID-19 By Anna Všetečková August 4, 2020 at 1:52 pm Casinos in the Czech Republic are slowly starting to recover after their compulsory shutdown for almost two months due to measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The casinos have been fully open since the middle of May; however, some health and safety measures still have to be followed. According to the newest resolutions of the Ministry of Health, a prohibition on events taking place in indoor premises exceeding 500 participants includes (among others) poker tournaments. Furthermore, face masks at indoor events exceeding 100 participants are obligatory. The obligation to wear face masks, however, doesn’t apply to the usual operation of the casino, meaning that in cases where more than 100 guests are in the casino (or at any other indoor premises, including shops, etc.) at the same time, they’re not required to wear masks. The meaningfulness of such a measure can, therefore, be naturally questioned. Still, business operators must also follow the health and safety measures imposed by regional health authorities, which may require face masks to be worn more broadly than the safety measures of the Ministry of Health. The authorities may even prohibit the operation of some businesses. There is no doubt that the multiple measures imposed by Czech authorities aimed at addressing the crisis or removing its aftermaths (“Anti-COVID Measures”) have had a major impact on the games-of-chance industry. Many casino operators are therefore considering how to recover damages caused by the measures imposed by the state. Luckily for them, but to the displeasure of the government, the Czech legislature formerly established a legal institute that imposes an obligation on the Czech Republic to compensate businesses for damages incurred by measures issued by the state in response to a crisis (the Czech Crisis Act). Although the main purpose of this regulation is to ensure compensation for tangible damages sustained by the persons concerned (e.g., when the state confiscates private property in order to prevent some damage during natural disasters, it shall provide the damaged person with compensation for the damage), the legislation is not limited to these cases and the people concerned may therefore claim compensation for any damage caused to them as a result of the Anti-COVID Measures. The Czech government quickly recognized its vulnerability to these claims. Twelve days after the first Anti-COVID Measures went into effect, the government started to classify them under a different legal regime and different law (Czech Act on Protection of Public Health). This has been deemed by many as an abuse of the law, whose only purpose is to absolve the Czech government from reimbursing businesses for the damages caused by the Anti-COVID Measures. A month after the change of the legal regime of the Anti-COVID Measures by the government, the Municipal Court in Prague declared the invalidity of the Anti-COVID Measures issued under the Czech Act on the Protection of Public Health. The Czech government has appealed this decision, though the Supreme Administrative Court (the court of appeal in this case) hasn’t issued its final decision yet. Nevertheless, the deadline for claiming damages is set at six months by the law and the claims are effective until September 2020. For this reason, many operators are considering whether to claim damages or not, as the Czech government is clearly refusing to pay them. According to the publicly available information, the recovery claims of the first entrepreneurs have already been denied by the Czech Government. As the damaged person is the plaintiff in this case, the burden of proof lies with him. The gambling operator will have to prove that the claimed damage was caused only by the Anti-COVID Measures and not the epidemic itself — in other words, that the damage would not have been sustained had the Anti-COVID Measures not been put into place and that patrons would have visited the casino even in the face of the pandemic. This will be the most problematic and challenging part of the proceedings for the claimant, who will have to support that contention with relevant calculations. We expect that these court hearings will take a long time, as there is great interest on the sides of both parties of the dispute in the success in the proceedings. In summary, although Czech law offers a possibility for casino operators to have the damage caused by the measures issued by the state at least partly compensated, the time and costs they will have to invest in the claims will often outweigh whatever success they might achieve. Anna Všetečková is a graduate of the Faculty of Law of Charles University in Prague, where she also attended the postgraduate (JUDr.) programme. Her thesis was on the topic of the operation of online gambling games in the Czech Republic. She has been working with Becker & Poliakoff’s law office in Prague since 2016, and since 2018 in the position of associate. In her practice, she focuses on gambling, AML law, and data-protection law. She has assisted in licensing and regulatory issues for leading gambling companies in the Czech Republic, as well as in adaptation to the new gambling regulation in the Czech Republic and implementation of the relevant processes in their day-to-day business.