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Interview with ULYS’s partner Thibault Verbiest

January 22, 2009 2009

‘There will be a day when the competition will be more fluid in France’

Bulletbusiness.com’s Legal Gaming Special

It is recommended that within the European Union every Member State should be enabled to decide about the liberalisation of the gambling market taking national characteristics into account.

This is in fact the current position in EU law, but with the crucial caveat that there is only a narrow band of legitimate reasons for restricting market access, according to the Remote Gambling Association.

According to the Association, unfortunately, the key to opening up markets is as much about taxation as regulation.  The main sticking point is that most EU Member States will not recognise the fundamental right of EU-based gambling operators to provide their services across borders. If this right is not enforced properly by the European Commission then Member States will gradually introduce systems that call for operators to be individually licensed in each jurisdiction.  This is completely unnecessary if the primary interest is consumer protection because comparable standards really should be in place across the EU, but compulsory local licencing will of course enable jurisdictions to levy taxes.

From France’s perspective, international law firm ULYS’s partner Thibault Verbiest says this will probably be the case in France, according to the ongoing discussion within the French government, the draft bill requires that all operators should obtain a licence in France, without respect to the fact they may already have one in another Member State.

“It would be surprising if the European Commission did not react against systems that are blatantly violating the freedom to provide cross-border services. However, operators will probably need to take legal action against legislations which one way or another limit cross-border services without having a coherent regime in parallel (e.g. which really protects consumers) or which discriminates operators without real justification,” said Verbiest, who is scheduled to speak during Bulletbusiness’ 3rd Legal Gaming in Europe Summit 2009, to be held in London on 26-27 January.

In France, the market opening talks are still ongoing.

Äccording to Verbiest, a draft bill creating a new regime should be examined within the next three months by the French MPs.

“The government announced at the end of 2008, that by the beginning of 2010 the new licencing project was going to be in place thanks to the new French gambling authority,” said Verbiest.

Verbiest also said that the government acknowledges that it is completely losing control of their tax revenues and consumers for their part continue to look for online gambling sites in other markets.

“This is not a new situation in France, since online gambling exist, French people have been trying it, sometimes at their own expenses since there was no system to help them distinguish trusted operators from fraudulent ones. For more than a year, the French government has acknowledged this situation and is trying to find remedies through a new piece of legislation. Since the topic has stopped being a taboo in France, it seems that consumers are more aware of which websites are safe (i.e. duly licensed in the E.U. or other safe jurisdictions), but it is obvious that only a real and realistic awareness campaign from the State will reach out to all players,” said Verbiest.

From operator’s perspective, Verbiest said since private operators did not have any legal access to French market until now and that the French government is willing to let some of them in, it can be said that there is a progress.

“However, there will be a long time before all operators can compete evenly, since the opening in France will only concern sports betting and casino games (poker, maybe backgammon) operators; all online games which are assimilated to lotteries and slots machines will remain prohibited. Thanks to European law and big legal battles, there will be a day when the competition will be more fluid in France, but this is not for tomorrow despite the tremendous progress which has been made.”

On grounds for a common approach to regulating the European Union, Verbiest said gambling regulations have been challenged in light of EU law in almost all EU Member States, and the same questions are raised every time. This alone is the sign that there is a need to discus common issues.

“There are already common regulations concerning money laundering but Member States seem to be ready for at least a common recommendation,”  Verbiest said.

Role of Bullet Business-Gaminglaw.eu partnership going forward

Gaming law specialists, who have joined hands with Bullet Business, feel the main and most important job mission of pan-European groupment is to provide the gaming industry not just with accurate and up-to-date legal advice but also to share key information, disseminate comments and suggestions, stimulate debates, quickly spread news and if at all possible, effectively reach out to the regulatory movers and shakers in the interest of the stakeholders.

For his part, Verbiest said this partnership (between Bullet Business and portal Gaminglaw.eu from gaming law specialists) is a unique opportunity to develop and enrich the only European portal dedicated to gaming and gambling laws.

3rd Legal Gaming in Europe Summit 2009

Bulletbusiness’ 3rd Legal Gaming in Europe Summit 2009 is scheduled to take place in London on 26-27 January.

For more information click here: http://www.bulletbusiness.com/legaleurope09/agenda.shtml



Ben Satchwell at +442073757163 or email ben@bulletbusiness.com

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