'Restez Calme,' French Minister Says about Market Opening

12 May 2009
On Monday, the hallowed halls of the Senate building in the Palais du Luxembourg played host to the latest government-sponsored conference on the imminent liberalization of France's gambling market.

The three key issues debated were the proposed levels of taxation, measures to address problem gambling and crime and the thorny problem of how to manage the market until the proposed opening on Jan. 1, 2010.

While the proposals published in recent months indicate a betting duty rate of 7.5 percent on turnover, with an additional 1 percent, there were almost unanimous calls from those present for the government to think again and tax the margin instead.

Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the proposals either just before or just after the summer recess, and Senator Nicolas About, who hosted the event, did indicate that the government was listening.

But Minister Eric Woerth, who is overseeing the liberalization, made clear he was in charge and that those operators wishing to enter the market would be able to influence neither the form nor the timetable for reform.

Mr. Woerth said problem-gambling-related issues will be the responsibility of the state, and not of operators. He clarified that there would be regulation -- not auto-regulation -- to ensure that measures were in place to prevent excessive gambling, money laundering and to guarantee maximum transparency of the operators’ business transactions.

Furthermore, Mr. Woerth declared government measures against unlicensed operators will include the blocking of both access to Web sites (as practiced by the Italians) and of financial transactions (as practiced by the Norwegians).

The fact that some people would still find a way around those measures was not a reason for not putting them in place.

Mr. Woerth also had a message to those offshore companies presently advertising in France.

He said that he would not let them exploit the situation to promote their brand and build their client databases in order to be in a more advantageous position once the new regime was in place.

Mr. Woerth had previously called on companies -- both domestic and foreign -- to discontinue their online gambling campaigns. He expressed dismay that some operators (including Unibet, which was still advertising in a Paris free newspaper on the day of the event) had not heeded his call.

He indicated that further legal action would be taken against those seeking to gain an advantage over others who obey the rules -- including preventing them from obtaining licences under the new regime.

Mr. Woerth reiterated that only those companies who respected French law would be allowed to operate.

However, in a more conciliatory tone, he told those seeking to enter the French market that it was pointless trying to make things happen sooner than the launch of the new gaming regime in January.

“Restez Calme” was his final message. Reform is on its way.

Mr. Wood is a veteran of the international betting and gaming industry, having worked in the past for companies like Ladbrokes and Victor Chandler. He is now an established consultant and researcher advising companies on market entry and business development projects in Europe.