June 09, 2008

France sets out 'controlled opening' timeline

French Budget Minister Eric Woerth set out the guidelines behind which France would move towards a controlled opening of its online betting and gaming market this afternoon.

Woerth met with European Commissioner for internal market and services Charlie McCreevy on Wednesday to discuss the main guidelines for the opening of the French market and will present them in detail to the French government during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday next week.

The key points Woerth and McCreevy discussed centred on the European Commission’s infringement procedure against France, what methods would be used to implement the opening of the French market and a provisional timeline for these measures to be passed through the French legislature.

Woerth said the level of taxation for online gaming firms operating in France had not yet been set as he wanted to consult with relevant parties in order to “set up something that works, especially with regard to the issue of financial returns towards sport” and sports bodies, with the principle of a levy applied across the sports betting industry. The issue of sponsorship of sports teams by operators will also be addressed with the relevant parties. Technology that enables the control of all electronic data and financial transactions and the levying of taxes will be implemented.

The bill to open the French online gaming market will be presented to Parliament during the next parliamentary session in the autumn, the regulatory body will be set up during the first semester of 2009 and the award of licences will happen during the second half of 2009.

In the intervening period, “operators will be asked to respect the current legislative set up. To be clear, online games remain forbidden, along with any advertising related to them. The behaviour of operators during that time will be sure to be take into account by the relevant authorities when the time comes to award the licences”, Woerth said. Any opening of the market would also lead to any “unauthorised” sites being pursued even more vigorously by the French authorities, Woerth added.

In reference to the European Commission’s infringement procedure, Woerth questioned whether France should continue to defend its monopoly system in the face of growing competition that was becoming harder and harder to repress.

He said: “It is in the name of realism that the (French) Government has decided to engage in a process of controlled opening of its online gaming sector; and I am happy to tell you today that the dialogue I have had with the Commission, in partnership with State Secretary for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet, has enabled us to avoid a pointless conflict.

“Commissioner McCreevy recognised the work that had been accomplished and viewed as positive the general guidelines presented to him. We will present the Bill to the Commission in September this year just before it is submitted to Parliament’s vote.”

The liberalisation of the French market will only concern pool betting for horse racing and fixed-odds bets on other sports such as football or tennis, online poker and casino games such as blackjack and roulette will also be authorised.

A regulatory authority will be set up to award licences in a transparent and non-discriminatory way, to protect against under-age gambling and promote safe gambling and ensure the number and nature of bets and games offered fall within set guidelines. It will also be tasked with preventing any conflict of interest and ensuring all transactions are transparent and adhere to anti-money laundering rules.

The licences will be awarded to operators according to industry sectors (sports betting, casino or poker games) for a five year-period. Operators that are licensed in other European states will be able to apply for a licence in France. The licensing requirements of the EU states in which the operators are licensed will be taken into account but will not necessarily lead to the award of a French licence.

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