Online gambling operators who make the mistake of initiating promotional and advertising moves before the French government is ready for them are in for a rude awakening, it appears from a report on Goal.com which surfaced this week.

The Ligue de Football Professionel was backed by the French national budget minister in its ultimatum to the Olympique Lyonnais football club to remove sponsorship branding and even the logo colours from its strip or stop playing. The club had earlier accepted a sponsorship agreement with an unnamed French online casino company.

The order had teeth, as the referee for the game had the league's authority to cancel the contest if the club did not comply, leaving the club with an appeal process that was unlikely to be immediately effective.

The ultimatum is the latest manifestation of repeated warnings by the French government that it will not allow to go unchallenged any attempts to break current laws and policies in anticipation of its liberalisation of gambling, currently planned for January next (2010) year.

Budget Minister Eric Woerth, who has in the past repeatedly stressed that the new gambling policies should not be anticipated before the implementation date, backed the league's approach when quoted by the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

"The opening of the market for online gambling will take place during 2010," the minister said. "Until then, both sides must respect French law. In a democracy, laws are not negotiable. Being a sports leader and an outlaw is incompatible. I therefore call on Jean-Michel Aulas, Lyon president and the company in question to keep their nerve."

Woerth went on to raise the possibility that the issue was being used to generate publicity by the unnamed online gambling company, commenting: "They carry out an operation for publicity, but it’s bad news for sport. Many other operators are behaving quite correctly."

He also issued a veiled threat, saying: "Obviously, the State, as the regulatory authority for online games, will take into account what is happening at the time of issuing the licenses. Wearing an advertisement for an illegal transaction is strictly prohibited. I will not let it happen."

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