BINGO COURT: FoxyBingo data thief gets off lightly; Rank’s ECJ tax victory

foxybingo-gala-rankA former employee at an Israeli poker company has been found guilty of unlawfully obtaining and selling the personal data of players. On Thursday, Marc Ben-Ezra appeared in Hendon Magistrates Court in London where he was found to have committed three offenses under the UK’s Data Protection Act. For this, Ben-Ezra was handed a three-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay FoxyBingo’s data controller Cashcade Limited £1,700 (plus £830 costs). This, despite the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) estimate that Ben-Ezra had profited about £25k from his illicit dealings. Not for nothing did the ICO’s Christopher Graham declare the sentence proved only that “we still don’t have a punishment that fits the crime.”

Using the pseudonym Matthew Edwards, Ben-Ezra sent solicitous emails to online gaming contacts in the UK. To bait the hook, he included a sample data set of some 400 FoxyBingo players. Cashcade got wind of the emails, hired some gumshoes to pose as buyers and had ‘Edwards’ send them a 65,000-player set for £1,700. The data had players’ names, usernames, addresses (physical and email) and phone numbers, but no banking info. Cashcade’s forensic team went to work, concluded that the data was stolen sometime in 2008 and notified the ICO.

Fortunately, Ben-Ezra had been shrewd enough to make his initial sales pitch from an email registered to his father-in-law’s business address. When confronted, Ben-Ezra came quietly, admitting guilt and handing over laptops which also included a small batch of player data belonging to Gala Coral (which has confirmed its authenticity). Ben-Ezra says he bought both companies’ data from a third party while he was still working in Israel, where (he claims) the practice was widespread. Upon moving to London and finding things a bit pricey, Ben-Ezra decided to cash in his data marker. Cashcade maintains that no customer accounts were compromised by Ben-Ezra’s indiscretions.

On a more upbeat note, Rank Group has prevailed once again in its epic battle with UK tax authorities. Rank originally filed claim against Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for unjustly collecting millions in VAT on Rank’s gaming machines and mechanized cash bingo between 1973 and 1996. The courts agreed (twice), handing Rank a £154m judgment. Needing that money to pay for the Royal wedding, HMRC appealed to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). HMRC argued that because the VAT didn’t affect competition, it didn’t technically contravene the EC principle of fiscal neutrality. The ECJ rejected this argument and advised other nations’ tax authorities not to follow HMRC’s example. Rank shares rose 10% on the news and unconfirmed reports suggest board members filled a hot-tub full of money and took turns jumping in.