France Debates Bill To Open Up Internet Gambling Market

The French parliament is in the process of debating a bill that, if passed, will see the country’s internet gambling market open to foreign competition by 2010.
France has come under pressure from the European Commission for its protectionist stance and currently only allows two state-owned companies to operate the country’s internet gambling business, which is worth billions of euros each year. 
Presently Groupe Francaise des Jeux, provides lottery services and other games, while  Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU) controls horse betting. Budget Minister Eric Woerth said that France was receiving around 5 billion euros (4.6 billion pounds) via these companies per year but acknowledged that up to 3 million French citizens were gambling on over 25,000 illegal gambling websites, 25% of which were based inside the country itself.
“We have chosen a middle way which I think is just and efficient, a controlled opening up of the market,” Eric Woerth told the French parliament.”I want to put an end to these parallel universes. I want to put an end to the jungle of illegal sites.”
The proposed new law would allow private companies to operate websites taking bets on games of skill such as poker, sports and horse racing after receiving a permit from the state regulator. Francaise des Jeux would continue to run the state Lotto, while betting on games of luck would not be permitted.
The proposed new law has started drawning the attention of the major UK gambling companies and PartyGaming’s CEO Jim Ryan has already signalled his companies interest and said:
“The size of the population and the appetite for gambling, and the group’s historically cautious approach to France make this a particularly exciting opportunity for us.”
However, the bill is still facing opposition from those who are concerned about addiction problems and Socialist legislators Michele Delaunay and Valerie Fourneyron recently said:
“This bill will lead to a boom in the number of gaming websites on offer and, even more dangerously, an exponential rise in the number of users who will be lured by advertising.”
French officials have warned that if the bill is passed the government would look unfavorably on any companies trying to get a head start on the opposition by illegally advertising ahead of time and this would be reflected at the licensing hearings.

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