Commercial Competitor Cries Foul over Partouche's Internet Exploits

9 January 2009

Patrick Partouche has run afoul of a fellow casino operator in France who claims Mr. Partouche's controversial online property gives his casino chain an unfair competitive edge during a time when the country's regulatory regime is in flux.

"The casino of Gujan Mestras decided to sue Partouche [in late 2008] because the government did not oppose or condemn Partouche’s initiative," Anouk Hattab-Abrahams, a lawyer with the Brussels branch of Ulys who is not involved with the case, told IGamingNews Friday.

Indeed, Mr. Partouche's online poker, betting and backgammon offering, licensed in Gibraltar, went live in November but has yet to draw any response from the Sarkozy administration.

The same can't be said for Frédérique Ruggieri, owner of Casino Gujan-Mestras in Gironde, who, last month, was quoted by Libé as saying: "Groupe Partouche flouts the Republic and is not afraid of boasting."

The French media has reported Casino Gujan-Mestras is concerned, specifically, that Mr. Partouche's Web site, Partouche Game, could draw prospective patrons away and damage business. Ms. Hattab-Abrahams said that Ms. Ruggieri has also accused Mr. Partouche's business of bypassing the transitional regulatory regime currently in place.

Ahead of a draft regulatory bill's release -- which has been delayed -- and its subsequent adoption, Française des Jeux and Pari Mutuel Urbain will retain their exclusive right to operate Internet gambling. And although Mr. Partouche has ruffled Ms. Ruggieri's feathers, his new Web site has, at the same time, shed light on a complex dilemma facing France's casino operators.

At a government conference in late October -- where the country's regulatory future was discussed -- Mr. Partouche pointedly explained that France's online market is being exploited by illegal, foreign operators, while existing law prohibits the casinos -- burdened by declining consumer confidence and a smoking ban -- from launching online.

Ms. Hattab-Abrahams said the Casino Gujan-Mestras case is now before a commercial court but could not give a time frame on when a decision is expected.

Chris Krafcik is the editor of IGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Mo.