Update on the liberalization of the gaming and betting market

By Evelyn Heffermehl and Fabien Gaucher (ULYS)

Opening of the French online gaming and betting market: the presidency has not yet decided on the “hows”, but the process is now irreversible.

1. Durieux report

Mr Sarkozy declared it publicly a few weeks ago: France will open its online gaming market. The process has thus now become irreversible.

At the beginning of this month, the report issued by Mr. Bruno Durieux on the opening of the French online gaming market was given to the Prime Minister, Mr. François Fillon, and to the ministry of budget, Mr. Woerth. The President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, is due to “validate” it in a near future.

2. Exclusion of lotteries and gaming machines

The online opening would only concern the online sports betting, casino and poker sectors. Lotteries and gaming machines would apparently be excluded from the scope of the opening.

3. Operators are preparing to enter the market

Big European and French groups such as TF1 are preparing for the opening of the market. Capital risk funds and investment companies focused on the online gaming industry are being created in France, getting ready to move in. Partouche and Barrière, the two main casino operators have already been granted licences respectively in Gibraltar and Malta.

4. Partnership with EU members

According to public declarations made to the press by the budget ministry, Mr. Woerth, France will work on the legal framework of the reform in partnership with some of its European partners (Finland, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, etc.). A first meeting is envisaged at the end of April.

5. Interdepartmental structure

Moreover, a new interdepartmental structure should be created with the mission of
granting licenses to online gambling operators. Authorized online gambling operators will
have to meet very strict requirements relating to money laundering and addiction of
players in order to be granted a licence.

6. Scientific study

A scientific study will be carried out during two years with the purpose of gathering
reliable information on these subjects (fight against money laundering and protection of
players).

7. “Regulated and controlled opening”

In an interview to the daily newspaper Le Parisien, Mr. Woerth indicates that, together with Mrs. Michele Alliot-Marie (Minister of Interior) and Mr. Michel Barnier (Minister of Agriculture), he will propose to the President of the French Republic and to the Prime Minister to set up a regulated and controlled opening of the online gambling market.

Mr. Woerth expresses several recommendations in connection with the opening of the French gambling market:

Horserace betting
  • Mutual betting system only (and thus exclusion of fixed-odds betting and bookmakers).
  • Players will have to participate to the financing of the State and of the equine sector.
  • The horserace betting market should be opened in two successive stages:
  • First stage: Private operators should be authorized to distribute horserace betting. In this case, PMU retains exclusive rights to organize horserace betting in France and privateoperators should be approved and have a license. Second stage (eventually): Private operators are authorized to organize horserace betting. In this case, private operators should be subject to the same requirements and tax treatment as for PMU.
Sports betting
  • Opening of the sector but with a limitation of the forms of sporting bets. The bet must be related to the performance of the athlete. Other bets disconnected from sports (e.g. a bet relating to the color of the tennis player’s eyes), should be prohibited.
  • The rights of the organizers of sports events will have to be addressed.
Casino games
  • Blanket prohibition of online slot machines (insofar as they represent a danger in terms of addiction).
  • Possible opening to the poker and the other traditional casino games.
  • Taxation: Concerning taxation, the question remains open. Mr. Woerth simply states that the system will have to preserve the financial resources of the State and of the equine sector.
8. Timetable

According to Mr. Woerth, the schedule of the opening belongs to the President of the Republic and to the Prime Minister.

Moreover, he believes that France should not rush into the opening of the market, which could be effective in 2009 or at the beginning of 2010. The Ministry for Budget is much worried about the general budget of the State and thus is less inclined to open the market shortly.

However, Mr. Woerth’s position is not shared by all in the government and especially not by the French President who seems more favorable to “speeding up” the process, especially for reasons relating to the financing of sports.

The question of setting up of a transitional period in between now and the opening, whereby operators could start offering their services on a contractual basis with the government, is also on the agenda but has not yet been decided upon.

Operators are indeed eager to be granted as soon as possible for a limited period of time and have suggested contributing financially to a sports fund. Sponsoring deals with major football clubs are indeed a major concern for operators such as Bwin.

It is expected that the weeks to come will show more visibility on the exact method France intends to use in order to regulate the transitory period.