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Emily D. Swoboda

It's Official: France to Liberalize Betting Market

9 April 2008

France will open up its gambling market in the next two years, said Eric Woerth, the country's budget minister.

Mr. Woerth announced on Monday that President Nicholas Sarkozy has made his decision to allow a "controlled opening" of the market by 2009 or early 2010.

Alexandre Dreyfus, managing director of ChiliBet Limited, the online gambling operator, has been active in lobbying for the opening of France's market. He explained what the liberalization will mean for European operators.

France currently holds two monopolies: one on horse race betting, Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU), and the other on sports betting, Fran├žaise des Jeux (FDJ). Those monopolies have been under pressure from the European Commission, which had issued a final warning before imposing fines.

"The monopoly today is on horse racing and on lottery and sports betting," said Mr. Dreyfus. "For the PMU, private operators can only distribute PMU bets. That means they will be like commercial agents."

"They want the PMU to be the only organizer for the race and the bets. We think that legally it doesn't work, but that's what they want for the moment."

Mr. Woerth told French daily Le Parisien, however, that if the time comes when private operators are allowed to organize bets, they would be subject to the same conditions and tax regime as the PMU.

Mr. Dreyfus said sports betting, which makes up about 5 percent of France's betting market, will also be loosened, but with strict rules to avoid match-fixing.

"For sports betting they are probably going to open a licensing process to allow sports book companies to apply for sports book licenses," he said, adding that there will be regulations against laying bets on tennis matches, for instance.

"What they don't want, for example on a live tennis match, is for operators to offer a bet on which player will win the first set, or something like that, because it could help the players to bet on himself to lose the set and so to win the bet," Mr. Dreyfus said.

There has been speculation that this move by the French government will lead to more liberalization in the country's gambling market, such as allowing online casinos and poker.

Mr. Dreyfus said the European Commission asked France to open sports betting and horse racing, but there are 192 casinos in France and 130 of them have fought for the last seven years for the right to operate online casinos. He said France would likely open up for French online casino operators.

It's Official: France to Liberalize Betting Market is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda