France’s highest appeals court, the Cour de Cessation, has ruled that the only justification the country can have for a monopoly on sports betting is through crime prevention.

The court made the ruling as part of a sanction review against Malta-based betting company, Zeturf in regards to horse racing. Paris Mutuel Urbain, which holds a monopoly in remote horse race betting took the matter before the court.

From offering online betting on horse races in France, adding to pressure from the European Commission for an end to the French state monopoly.

 Under European Union rules, limits to competition, even those ‘stemming from limits on gaming as a special or exclusive right, cannot be justified,' the Cour de Cassation, said Wednesday as it announced its decision.

Such restrictions can be used only to block gambling companies from ‘criminal or fraudulent' activities by ‘channeling them through controllable avenues,' the court, based in Paris, said in its ruling this week.

The decision sends the case against Zeturf, a Maltese Internet gambling company, back to a Paris appeals court for a rehearing. It could take up to a year for the case to come back to court…"

Legal action could be the next step after 24 August deadline

The European Commission is taking a tougher stance on the French refusal to open its online gambling to companies from other EU states, it appears.

Ton Van Lierop, a spokesman for the European Union revealed that the European Commission last week instructed the French Government to modify its draft law on online gambling to allow foreign gambling companies to operate in France or face legal action.

“Last week, we sent a detailed opinion to France concerning the draft law, which is aimed at prohibiting foreign operators from coming to sell their services on the French market,” said Van Lierop.

The Commission claims that the French draft law violates article 49 of the European Union treaty concerning the free provision of services. Van Lierop said that the French have until August 24 to change their draft law or face the possibility of being taken to court.

Observers were taken by surprise by the announcement, as there were reports last week that France’s state betting and gaming monopoly was among the subjects discussed when Jean-Pierre Jouyet, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, had talks in Brussels with Charlie McCreevy, European commissioner for internal market and services.

At the time, a spokesperson for McCreevy said the meeting had been very positive and that an extension had been granted to France to reply to the letter of formal notice sent by the Commission, although no date had been set. The spokesperson added that both men were hopeful of finding a solution to the issues related to European cross-border betting and gaming in France that will be in accordance with the European Treaty.