France to open online gambling in 2009

On Monday, France's Budget Minister Eric Woerth announced that he met with European Commissioner Charlie MacCreevy last week to present a plan to open up France's online gambling market. Woerth will present that plan to the Council of Ministers on Wednesday.

France has been under infringement procedures by the European Commission since June 2007 for its online gambling policies. The nation outlaws online gambling except from its state-sanctioned companies.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that gaming firms registered in one EU state must be allowed to operate across all 27 nations of the EU. However, nations can ban online gambling from those companies if there is an overriding national public interest to do so.

Paris had refused to grant licenses to private operators based in other nations, citing that it needs to protect consumers and stop online fraud, which it can do by not allowing access to any online gambling except through its state-sanctioned companies.

The European Union considered that system in violation of its policies because it creates an online gambling monopoly for the state-run betting sites. Woerth told the media that faced with the EC's action against it, France could either dig in its heels or it could change its position.

"Being realistic, we're beginning a controlled opening-up of online betting, which we have presented to the European Commission," Woerth said in a press release.

Currently, France's online gambling market is restricted to PMU for horse racing and Française des Jeux for lotteries. The controlled opening of the market would include only allowing parimutuel betting for horse races, and the government will talk to sports leagues about other forms of sports betting. Online poker games are also on the agenda.

"We also want to open up casino games like poker but also roulette or black jack," Woerth said in a Reuters article.

EU authorities are still waiting for more details on France's plan before it makes a final decision on suspending legal proceedings in the matter.

Woerth told media a law will be presented in parliament and a regulatory authority will be established by the beginning of next year. The first approvals for licenses should be issued in the second half of 2009.

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