Liberation of French gambling - decision being made this week

The week in which French online gambling's future is defined

This is a key week for French gambling as the National Assembly gathers between 7th and 9th October 2009 to consider the draft law designed to liberalise the French gambling market in 2010.

It comes seven months after its notification to the European Commission, and the European Gambling and Betting Association has reminded interested parties that it still considers that the French proposal conflicts with the EC Treaty.

“Several key restrictions in the draft do not serve any general interest purpose, whether consumer or public order protection” Sigrid Ligne, Secretary General of the EGBA said this week.

Ligne went on to define the areas which EGBA finds contentious:

* The opening of the horserace betting market limited to pool betting only: this restriction is based on the sole justification that it is a “French tradition” and it will force incumbents to align their offer with the one offered by former French monopoly PMU. It will prevent them from offering fixed odds bets on horse races to French players, while this type of popular bet will be permitted for all other sports.

* EU operators forced to cap their payback ratio to players, allegedly for the sake of limiting problem gaming: this will again force new entrants to erase one of their most competitive arguments. To date there is no evidence whatsoever of this as confirmed by the European Commission. The average ratio (percentage of stakes paid back to players) is currently 75 percent for FDJ and 78 percent for PMU while online EU operators usually pay back 95 percent to players.

* EU operators forced to establish an IT platform in France in order to provide data which could, in full transparency, be provided cross-border from their existing IT platforms: Such obligation would lead to duplications and create a clear operational and financial disadvantage for non-French operators.

* The introduction of a “sports betting right” for event organisers creates a worrying precedent in many ways. First, it grants sports entities ownership of information currently in the public domain (name and results of events or fixture lists) and also used by other professions such as journalists. Second, it will favour the most attractive competitions and sports federations at the expense of less visible sports. Third, most EU regulated operators already enforce early detection systems (such as that of ESSA) at their own cost which allows them to block suspicious bets and alert in real time the relevant sports authorities.

"These concerns also beg the question as to whether the French model will be workable and economically viable", Ligne adds. “Ring fencing the French market goes against the cross-border nature of the Internet and would lead to the emergence of an underground and uncontrolled market where consumers would be deprived from any protection."

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