FRANCE GEARING UP FOR ONLINE GAMBLING (Update) Major new policy now evolving The French daily newspaper Aujourd’hui en France has confirmed earlier reports in Le Parisien (see previous InfoPowa reports) that France is moving toward the regulation rather than prohibition of online gambling, perhaps as early as 2009. The newspapers report that “everything is ready” for France to initiate discussions on its proposed framework for online gaming and betting. In current moves, former MP Bruno Durieux handed in the results of a study he carried out on online gambling for the French finance inspectorate at the end of last week, and President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to give his final approval for the policy shift in the near future. President Sarkozy has displayed a more open mind to a competitive betting market in France, and Budget Minister Eric Woerth and other French government representatives have held talks with European Commission officials in Brussels this year. Woerth disclosed earlier this week that the president favours a controlled approach to opening up the market, ensuring that competition is even and balanced. The timeframe for “a new era in online gaming and betting” is thought to be towards the end of “2009 or early in 2010”, according to Woerth. Reports suggest that France intends to develop a new “system” for online gaming and betting in partnership with other EU states such as Belgium, Germany and Holland, rather than adopt existing models such as those in the UK or Italy. An initial steering committee will gather at the end of April to move this agenda forward. At a national level, operators will have to be licensed to offer their services in France and conform to the system, with strict guidelines relating to money laundering and player protection. In his latest disclosures, Minister Woerth said that France was not acting under threat from the European Commission (which has engaged with the French on the country's monopolistic gambling policy) but to address the changes brought in by technological developments and the Internet. He added that horse racing betting had to evolve, but he would not allow fixed-odds betting products to be offered on the sport. For other sports such as football, fixed-odds bets would be offered, but Woerth added: “A sports bet is not betting on the colour of a tennis player’s jersey. The bet must be linked to the sporting performance, if not it can be the source of all kinds of dubious activity.” The French government would also expect to share in betting revenues by way of taxes, he added. Regarding online casino and poker gaming, these activities will be licensed, although further study is necessary, Woerth said. Slot machines are for now at least not approved on grounds that these types of gambling were thought to be too addictive, the minister said. Formerly one of the most aggressive opponents of any competition to its state gambling monopolies, France along with 9 other recalcitrant EU nations has been under increasing pressure from the European Commission, which is determined to enforce European Union requirements that member nations in the trading bloc permit free passage of goods and services with other members.