French Government Acknowledges Possibility of 2010 Opening

3 November 2008

As anticipated by sources with IGamingNews early last week, the French media is reporting that the much anticipated ouverture maîtrisée could be pushed back to 2010.

"It (the draft regulatory bill) will be reviewed by the National Assembly and the Senate during 2009 and we will be ready in late 2009 or early 2010," Eric Woerth, the French budget minister and key figure in liberalizing the online market, was quoted by Le Point as saying on Friday.

Mr. Woerth was speaking while on a visit to the Palais Omnisports de Bercy in Paris. There, the French Tennis Federation was monitoring online wagering activity on the Masters Series tournament, Paris-Bercy, which ended yesterday.

Christian Bîmes, president of the federation, said that as of Friday, 130 million euros had already been wagered but by the tournament's conclusion more than 300 million euros were expected from 150 Web sites.

The federation has sought to keep foreign online betting operators from offering action on its events this year. It filed civil suits last February against Betfair, Bwin Interactive Entertainment A.G. and Ladbrokes in Belgium, and suits against Unibet and Expekt in Paris.

Mr. Woerth, meanwhile, indicated that the draft bill had not been sent to Brussels yet for European Union compliance testing, but according to Le Monde said it would be ready in the "weeks ahead."

Still at issue in France is a transitional regime, which could grant temporary licenses to land-based operators like Groupe Partouche that are struggling beneath the weight of foreign online competition, faltering consumer confidence levels and a smoking ban.

Patrick Partouche, the flamboyant casino boss, had threatened to go live with an online casino by the end of October -- with or without government approval.

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