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France Approves Online Poker Bill

October 14, 2009 (CAP Newswire) — In France, the French National Assembly has approved a new law that would allow online poker and other formerly restricted forms of online gambling.

The new bill will regulate the national online gaming market and open it up to foreign operators; it’s currently restricted to just two state-owned companies. It passed the National Assembly by a majority of 96 votes (302 for and 206 against). It now moves on to the French Senate, where it must also be approved, according to the Gaming Intelligence Group.

Somewhat unexpectedly, several amendments were added to the bill before it passed, making it a bit less appealing to foreign gaming operators. One of the amendments states that companies applying for a license in the French market must first close all current French player accounts for six months (!) before a license will be granted. Another stipulates that only online gambling operators “that do not have subsidiaries or operations in tax havens (such as Gibraltar) can be considered for a license,” according to Card Player Europe. (Read that article here.)

These amendments would most likely make it hard for existing companies like Bwin and Party Poker to do business in the French market.

Predictably, then, some groups are speaking out against these new rules. According to the Remote Gambling Association’s Clive Hawkswood, the new bill “will simply not be viable for the vast majority of private sector operators and France will miss out on the opportunity to share in the growth and associated benefits of having its own thriving, regulated online gambling industry.

“It also runs the risk of further challenges at EU level because the level of restrictions are such that they could be considered unacceptable barriers to market entry,” he continued. The European Gaming and Betting Association has expressed similar concerns.

Some of the analysts are more positive. A recent report by industry consultants has predicted that, if the market is indeed opened up next year as planned, the French Internet poker and gaming market could reach €1.7 billion by 2015. Read more about that here.

By comparison, the total spend in the UK on online gambling last year was £876 million (that's about €941 million), according to this article at the UK’s Times Online.

Further info, as well as a copy of the actual draft law, can be found at the Gaming Intelligence Group website, here.