The French government budget minister, Eric Woerth, revealed his government's proposals for a "controlled opening" of the French gambling market in a meeting with European Commission chief Charlie McCreevy this week, but the cautious content is unlikely to appeal to everyone.
Under pressure from the EU to remove barriers to the free movement between EU members of goods and services, the French state monopoly has hitherto fiercely resisted the introduction of competitive products from major European companies. It's recent preparedness to reconsider its position will possibly influence the policies of other monopolised gambling states such as Sweden, Denmark and Holland, all of which have been warned by McCreevy that they could face the European Court of Justice unless there is change.
The Financial Times reports that the meeting between Woerth and McCreevy was cordial and positive, and France will now be expected to submit more detailed legislative proposals in the autumn, at which stage the Commission would take a final decision on how to proceed.
But betting companies remained sceptical about the proposed changes. The FT recalls a report compiled earlier this year for the French government that recommended protecting horse-race betting and allowing sports betting only if companies were located in France.
Ladbrokes, the UK operator, said a genuine opening up of the market would have to mean cross-border competition.
“However it is likely that the French government will adopt a very restrictive regime with high tax rates,” a Ladbrokes spokesman said.
The European Gaming and Betting Association said the details and the exact scope of the proposals remained unclear.
”While the implementation in France of an online gambling regulatory framework would be a long-expected move for the EU regulated operators, it is crucial that such a framework is fully adapted to the cross-border nature of the online sector and does not lead in practice to any forced establishment”, it said.