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French News

by Benjamin Gallen |  Published: May 01, 2007

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Online gambling enters Prohibition - for how long?
Previously in French News: Bwin executives are arressted. Patrick Bruel is questioned by police regarding his involvement with Winamax. An anti-online gambling law is passed before Christmas, targeting foreign illegal companies. Deauville European Poker Tour event is cancelled.

The new year saw the young poker economy in France starting to feel the heat regarding its future. PartyGaming decided to stop accepting new French customers, while PokerStars chose to close its affiliate revenue program on our territory. The two existing poker magazines in the French language, Card Player France and Live Poker, are now looking for new sources of advertising revenues. The effects of the anti-gambling law don't stop here, as French authorities are willing to fire every bullet in the chamber to make sure that such law is respected. After meetings with the police, all of the big French poker portals (news websites and communities such as ClubPoker.net) are currently in the process of removing their advertising banners and affiliates links. Broadcasting of poker shows on TV is now scrutinized, because of the heavy advertising material featured in it.

The application of the new law affected live cardrooms, too. Nowadays, visitors of the Aviation Club in Paris can read a sign posted on the wall, stating that players aren't allowed anymore to wear clothes with online poker logos on it. At the upcoming World Poker Tour event, the club won't accept any players who qualified online, justifying the position on its website with this amusing sentence: "As per French legislation regarding on-line gambling games, all tournaments organised within the Aviation Club de France are off line."

Meanwhile, French authorities keep investigating on foreign illegal gambling companies. Twenty of those companies (including 888 and Unibet) received letters requesting their executives to attend interviews with French authorities. The first of those meetings took place on March 13 with the former chief executive and non-executive director of 888, John Anderson. 888 made the news last September when its sponsorship with Toulouse Football Club was cancelled after pressures on the club by French football authorities. According to the Financial Times, Anderson was released after an "inconclusive eight-hour interview," but he could be asked to return, and even face charges.

One who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar is Patrick Partouche, head of the Partouche family, the biggest operator of land-based casinos in France. Partouche received a one-year suspended sentence and a €40,000 fine for his involvement with online sites Poker770.com and Casino770.com. The casino landlord has been wanting to operate online for a long time, but was unable to do so because of French laws. The business deals he made with the Belize-based firm Mandarin Data Processing were recognized by the French Court as a "deliberate will to break French law by using a company located in an offshore country."

European Court of Justice makes a strong ruling
"The Italian criminal penalties for the collecting of bets by intermediaries acting on behalf of foreign companies are contrary to [European] community law." This sentence comes from a judgement made on March 6 by the European Court of Justice in the case opposing British firm Stanley Leisure Plc and Italy. The casino had opened a bookmaking shop there and was criminally charged with not having an Italian gaming license. It argued that its valid UK gaming licence was giving it the right to operate in Italy, based on the freedom of services clause that prevails within the European Union. The Court of Justice favoured its stance.

The Court's decision is a milestone, and will set a precedent for European countries running state-controlled gaming monopolies: Even if French authorities keep pursuing foreign gambling operators, it now may have little effect except for accentuating the gap between national and European rules. Sooner or later, harmonization will be needed, and it's Europe that will set the tone.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing candidate running in the upcoming presidential race, is already acknowledging the fact that France's stance won't stand for long: "If the European laws prevail, we will have to tax the foreign betting companies." spade

Benjamin Gallen is a reporter for www.clubpoker.net.