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ECJ Ruling Emboldens French Ahead of Market Liberalisation

11th September 2009 8:08 am GMT

France's Finance Minister, Eric Woerth, has said that Tuesday's ECJ ruling vindicates the position taken by the French government in the liberalisation of its online gaming market. Meanwhile a number of casino groups are asking the courts to impose a multi-year ban on online gaming operators active in France illegally ahead of the new legislation, preventing them from gaining licences.

The ECJ ruling has received widespread support in France from both politicians and gaming operators who view the court's decision to recognise the legitimacy of the Portuguese monopoly as giving tacit approval to the French model.

"A State is entitled to prohibit an operator, authorised in another Member State, from offering gaming products on its territory, if that State itself has not given the operator the right to do so," said Eric Woerth in a statement welcoming the ECJ's decision.

"Our proposed legislation clearly defines the rules that operators must respect in order to obtain and keep such a licence. The rules will, more efficiently than is currently the case, fight fraud and money laundering, protect players from the risks of gambling addiction, protect minors and guarantee the integrity of sporting competitions."

Mr. Woerth's comments refer to the need for online gaming operators to apply for a licence under legislation to be introduced early next year, regardless of whether they are licensed in another European member state.

Those comments were echoed by Jean-François Lamour who was instrumental in drafting the legislation. "The text of the bill is balanced, protective and legally sufficiently binding for the common interest brought forward by the ECJ to be respected," he said.

Online gaming operator Stanleybet, however, believes that nothing in the ECJ ruling has any bearing on most European jurisdictions including France.

"In the Santa Casa ruling, the ECJ accepted that Santa Casa is an entity under public law strictly placed under the control of the Portuguese State and furthermore recognised that Portugal, through the monopoly vested in Santa Casa, which does not pursue objectives of profit, in fact coherently pursues goals of control and containment of betting.

"The ECJ therefore found that the domestic legislation that was at stake is proportional, apt to attain its purpose and non-discriminatory," said the company in a statement Thursday.

"We respect the Santa Casa ruling of the ECJ, but we cannot see that is more than an interesting application to a particular case of the settled Gambelli and Placanica jurisprudence," added Stanleybet CEO, John Whittaker. "The legal context of the jurisdictions in which we operate, namely, Italy, Germany and Greece, and hopefully shortly France, where we are waiting for a response from the Government, has not changed in the least."

However French casino operators see this as an opportunity to protect their market and punish those currently active there.

Three casino groups, Barrière, Tranchant and Joa, have already filed complaints earlier this year against 14 sites including bwin, Unibet and Sportingbet, for offering online gaming to French players. In hearings scheduled for February 8-10, 2010, the group plans to ask the Criminal Court in Paris to impose a ban on those violating the law as it currently stands, thereby prohibiting them from applying for a French licence for a number of years.

 The group said in a statement this week that the ECJ ruling had "removed any possibility for defence for the violators, who have so far based themselves on the position of EC Commissioner McGreevy."

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