10/26/09 – The long awaited reforms of the French gambling markets have been met with severe criticism from several major gambling consumer organisations and agencies. The long-awaited reforms were passed earlier this month, legalising online gambling and attempting to open the gambling markets, loosening the grip of the state-run bookmaker, Paris-Mutual Urbain (PMU), which had operated a monopoly.

Yet rather than achieving its objectives of opening markets, the reforms have been accused of hampering significant progress. The European Gaming and Betting Association condemned the legalization as it will “worsen the chances of an open market”, while the Remote Gaming Association described the changes as an “unattractive and unviable tax regime”.  The criticisms centred on levies imposed on competing bookmakers, which sees the French sports commission collect 1.8% of all industry revenues. Further restrictions exist through the creation of sports betting licences, which enable professional teams to sell the rights to bet on their games to the highest bidder.

The reforms have also been accused of discrimination for outlawing online betting exchanges. Organisations such as Betfair have been banned from the market, as licences will not be granted to individual punters, who are responsible for laying odds under these betting exchange systems. Betfair Managing Director Mark Davies called this decision a “slap in the face for the consumer”.

While the sports betting industry has been reformed under the French legalization, the provisions have further eroded the commitment to open markets by continuing to omit lotteries and slot machines from competing agencies, instead retaining control of the trade by the state bookmaker, PMU.

Consumer groups have strengthened their opposition to such restrictions on the market. The Right2Bet campaign has already attracted 10,000 signatures in its mission to trigger the European Citizens’ Initiative, which would pressure the European Commission to submit a proposal to the Union. The campaign seeks to enforce EU laws on free trade and put an end to the Commission’s tolerance of state governments restricting consumer choice to monopolistic bookmakers, as well as opening up the market to betting exchanges.

The petition can be found at www.right2bet.net