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French News

Bad times for online gambling, and France is at war with foreign companies

by Benjamin Gallen |  Published: Dec 01, 2006

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Everything is moving so fast in the gambling world these days. Just when I was writing last month that France seemed to be relaxing its grip on "Les jeux de hasard" by allowing Texas hold'em to be introduced into casinos, some surprising events occurred. On Sept. 15, Manfred Bodner and Norbert Teufelsberger, two executives from the Austrian gaming company Bwin, were arrested and taken into custody by the police in La Turbie, south of France, echoing the events that happened this summer in the United States, when SportingBet and BetOnSport executives were also arrested. They were about to give a press conference about their brand-new partnership with the football team of Monaco when the authorities interrupted. Indeed, Bwin, among other companies such as 888.com, is advertising its logo on the shirts of various football teams, which is a violation of the law in France: After all, you can't do publicity for an illegal product. It reminded everyone that you can't place a bet legally anywhere in France but at two state-owned companies: La Francaise des jeux (lotteries and sports) and the Pari Mutuel Urbain (horses). Obviously, these two are at the origin of the attack: They aren't pleased to be in competition with a whole bunch of unknown foreign companies, who, thanks to the Internet, now have access to a virtually unlimited market. Billions of euros are at stake.

This is the first concrete demonstration of the public force to fight against the ever-increasing growth of foreign gambling companies in our territory. Of course, it also concerns us poker players. If the French authorities decide to play hardball against online gambling, the Internet cardrooms will become a target, too. But let's not get too pessimistic here. As we all know, European laws prevail over national laws. And Brussels authorities have been clear about monopolistic situations: They shouldn't exist. Also, the Bolkenstein directive states that services can spread freely within the European Market zones. That's the argument used by Bwin: Since they are legit in Austria, why couldn't they operate and advertise in France?

So, right now, that's where we are - a conflict between local and European laws. This won't last, as Brussels will arbitrate the issue soon. Gambling company executives remain optimistic: Countries like Belgium, Italy, and Malta followed the British way and liberalised their markets.

Nowadays, the professional French football league (LFP) banned all advertising of gambling companies on their teams' shirts, which made for some funny side effects. The whole Toulouse team showed up at its next game with shirts reading "???.com censored," but on the other hand, the Milan players weren't forbidden to wear a Bwin ad when they played against Lille in the Champions League.

Meanwhile, the French market expands

Despite the current storm, poker keeps growing in France, and several online cardrooms are making huge investments, targeting French customers. Winamax launched a French platform and hired superstar and World Series of Poker bracelet winner Patrick Bruel to represent them (frankly, they couldn't have dreamed of a better ambassador to advertise poker in France), as well as Michel Abecassis. AtlasPoker is a brand-new website, which has been joined by two of the best French players out there: high-stakes regulars Claude Cohen and Anthony Lellouche. Prior to them, Poker770 has already been on the map for a while, with its team of tournament specialists: Pascal Perrault, Thomas Fougeron, and Fabrice Soulier. Interestingly, all of these websites, among others, have their ads heavily featured in the French poker magazines. And no one seems to bother! I guess that's because these publications don't have an audience as large as football. This is good, because, honestly, I really don't want to see Patrick Bruel end up behind bars.

A new cardroom in the capital
The Concorde - that's its name - recently opened in Paris. It's in a four-story building offering plenty of space (1,500 square meters), with 100 employees serving the usual deal on a plate: table games, a bar and a restaurant (as well as a lounge space), and, most importantly, 17 cash-game tables. Tournaments will be scheduled on a regular basis. According to the people in charge, the policy at the Concorde will be: Everybody's welcome. Translation: no dress code, and a willingness to adapt the buy-in to the players' demands. Sounds like a good deal. The first reports from ClubPoker members who went there were nothing but ecstatic.
Cercle Concorde
14, rue Cadet
75009 Paris
+33 (0)1 48 018 777
www.pokerconcorde.com
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Benjamin Gallen is a reporter for www.clubpoker.net.