7 octobre 2009

French Parliament Discusses New Bill On Online Gambling

The debate will be tense today at the French Parliament with the presentation of a new bill to open up and regulate gambling in France. While the European law was already modified to liberalize the market, member states are under the pressure of the European Commission to reform their gambling markets.


Currently, betting in France is restricted to two main state monopolies i.e. the group Française des Jeux, which runs the state lottery, and Pari Mutuel Urbain which offers gambling on horse racing. All other online gambling is currently banned. If passed, the law would allow a number of national as well as foreign firms to offer sports betting and poker in France, opening a massive potential market. The licenses to operate would be delivered by the ARJEL (Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne). The number of licenses to be delivered is unclear at this point. On the other hand, those gambling websites who did not request (or are not granted) such a license would become de facto illegal in France.

How is the ARJEL going to monitor the huge market of online gambling? Is it legally possible to stop a punter from accessing an illegal website? Is it even possible technically speaking?

The new law aims primarily to fight the growing number of illegal gambling sites and eventually to protect punters. The French Government is certainly interested as well not to miss the potential additional taxed income generated by the huge turnover of online gambling.

Advertising represents another crucial challenge for big players such as BetClic, ZEturf or ChiliPoker. They've been waiting for months if not years to be authorized to advertise for their products.

The French bill has already been revised many times since March 2009 when plans to open up and regulate betting in France were first announced. Even though it has already been validated by the European Commission, it still has quite a few obstacles to overcome. In particular, the law is heavily criticized by the Socialists as well as some lobbyists from the casino industry. The former plan to file several hundreds (presumably 276) of amendments in disagreement with the law. Some amendments covet to ban publicity on any television channel that would prove to hold shares in a gambling operator. The objective here is clear: prohibit commercial alliances in France between gambling operators and the media. By the way, one can observe that many such covenants have been signed these last weeks: Bwin with Amaury group, Betclick with Europe1, Unibet with RMC, Canalturf with France Television, etc. Also, we should mention Eurosportbet launched in May by Sports TV broadcaster Eurosport. EurosportBET is run by a joint venture company between Eurosport and investment fund Serendipity called SPS Betting. As one can see, the gambling industry has already deeply penetrated the mass media.

Another amendment tries to forbid operators' names, such as Winamax, that would suggest guaranteed winnings to gamblers. Finally, several amendments exclude any sponsorships benefitting sports clubs while the sponsoring operators organise bets on games involving those clubs! Here Bwin, Unibet and Betclic are particularly referred.

Meanwhile, Alexandre Dreyfus, founder of Chilipoker, and Emmanuel de Rohan-Chabot, president of Zeturf, founded the AFOJEL (Association Française des Opérateurs de Jeu En Ligne), a new association in support of the legal operators in France. It has two main objectives:
  • promote ideas and improve knowledge about the online gambling industry by participating in various debates;
  • represent and defend the interests of the gambling industry by acting like a labor union.
The association is in talks to include other members among industrial groups interested in investing money in this sector.

While discussions at the French Parliament are scheduled for the three coming days, many believe that it will take longer to reach an agreement.

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