Friday, March 02, 2007

Sure, NOW We're Like France --- Heat Put On Online Gambling Firms to Vacate the Virtual Premises

Thinking that the United States is unique in its protectionist stance regarding online gambling is, in a word, erroneous. France has taken equally strident steps in recent months to bully and brow-beat online firms into getting the hell out of L'Dodge, even as France is more closely bound by the European Union free trade agreements governing such matters, agreements that France played a pivotal role in creating in the first place.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? No doubt you'd be shocked to learn that France has two-state run monopolies it's trying to protect. As with the U.S., free trade is only to be acceptable if the trade runs in a certain direction, either coming into the country in its majority or significantly increasing the bottom-line value of a major corporate entity. Other than that, it's a case of, "Pardon moi, but you really didn't believe us, did you?"

No, I never had a doubt. France's bully-boy tactics began last year with the arrests of two senior executives of Austrian online gaming firm Bwin at a press conference last year, announcing a sponsorship deal with a French soccer club. The arrests, with the case itself still pending, forced the scuttling of several similar dealers between major online companies and high-profile French soccer clubs and other concerns.

Earlier this year, an important French Presidential wannabe with a Fristian conservative streak, Nicolas Sarkozy, made an anti-gambling plank a strong part of his continuing push to power. Sarkozy, unlike Frist, remains both a serious threat to come to power and a possibility to inflict further damage to the online gaming world. French authorities continued their push by putting enough pressure on the people involved to force the cancellation of the recent European Poker Tour Deauville event, which was to be held just a week ago at the Casino Deauville. Another significantly impacted party was EPT title sponsor Poker Stars.

Last week, word emerged that former 888 Holdings CEO John Anderson has been summoned to an "interview" with the French authorities, and it now seems as if France has extended similar "requests" to as many as 20 other companies, with the implied message that the alternative to showing up for the interview is having an arrest warrant issued. One company not mentioned among the 20 is PartyGaming, although Party is certainly receiving attention of some unwanted sort. A week or so back, Party notified its affiliates that no new French customers would be accepted, and now it seems, Party has quietly taken down its French-language web site. Party remains adept at fleeing at the first sign of a bumpy road, even as a mercenary firm such as 888 Holdings shows a willingness to stand up and fight against France within the EU's framework.

However, the battle over online gaming is likely to challenge the very framework of the EU itself, which in a worst-case scenario will become as toothless as the United Nations. And you thought that playing pocket jacks was a chore of major significance....

Of all things, though, why is this the issue that France chooses for embracing and emulating the U.S.? Sheesh. I'm not radically anti-France, being a bit more global in such matters than say, my father, who served in the latter stages of World World II and whose opinions of France were set in stone when he was spit on by a French child while on parade march. To this day my father makes two exceptions for things Viva Francaise --- french fries and french toast.

And onward. Back next week with some more goodies, promise.

1 comment:

Bill Rini said...

Don't you mean Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast?