Former 888 CEO to Speak with French Authorities

27 February 2007

French authorities have requested interviews with officials from at least one European online gaming company about its activities in the country's monopolized gambling industry.

Gibraltar-based operator 888 Holdings plc confirmed today that former CEO, John Anderson, has been invited to an interview with the French authorities.

The company said in a prepared statement that it did not know why the meeting had been called, but that it was consulting with its legal counsel on the matter.

Some speculate that the request relates to 888's sponsorship of Toulouse soccer club. The firm dropped its contract with the club in December 2006 after the French government in November banned its sports clubs from advertising any form of online gambling or sports betting.

The company emphasized that revenue from French customers represents an "immaterial percentage" of it business.

Anderson, who stepped down as chief executive at the end of last year, remains a non-executive director of the firm.

U.K. press reports today said Swedish sports book Unibet's senior management is also believed to have been invited to speak with the French authorities. Unibet in 2006 acquired, an online business heavily promoted in France and Belgium.

Betting and gaming in France are controlled by a state monopoly and online gaming companies are prohibited from advertising in the country. Furthermore, French politicians have reportedly introduced an amendment that would prevent the transfer of funds from French players to online gaming sites -- reminiscent of the U.S. Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

Five months ago French authorities arrested Bwin co-chief executives Manfred Bodner and Norbert Teufelberger for alleged violation of domestic betting laws. The two were detained on Sept. 15 during a press conference announcing the company's sponsorship of Monaco football club, which it was forced to cancel.

Bodner and Teufelberger were released on bail but told they could face up to three years in jail if found guilty of breaking laws on gambling advertising. They subsequently filed a complaint with the European Commission (EC) against France, alleging France's violation of the free trade agreement laid out in the EC Treaty.

Shares in 888 fell 7.1 percent to 102.25 p in London today.