Thursday, 29 April 2010


As French legislation moves ever closer, more and more operators appear to be lining up to suggest that it simply isn't going to work.

An op-ed piece in Le Monde the other day, signed jointly by Betclic, Bwin, and Unibet, laid out the reasons to be fearful. Isabelle Parise, co-chair of Mangas Gaming, told the IGaming 360 conference in Madrid yesterday that there are "many things that are dreadful" in the legislation, which, as it stands, is "the worst you can imagine". And Gigi Levy, CEO of, threw into a results presentation yesterday the thought that it would be more difficult for foreign operators to get a French licence than it will be for French ones. He commented that his company operates happily under its Gibraltar licence by the terms of European law, which seems to me to indicate that they plan to continue to do so when the law comes in, just as the amiable and eloquent Patrick Partouche suggested would be true of his eponymous outfit a few weeks ago.

At Betfair we had the latest in a long series of meetings about France this morning, pondering how absurd and ridiculous the new law is, and discussing whether our since-foundation stance of complying with national legislation obliges us to withdraw from the market until we are in a position to apply formally to operate, if it ever becomes commercially viable to do so. It would be an arduous and depressing task to contact our French customers with that sort of unhappy news; but the law as it is written would require us to close accounts and block French IP addresses, with risk of arrest for non-compliance. Operators who do comply with it would have to pull out of France.

Absurd and ridiculous, though, the law unquestionably is.

The simple fact is that we know, and customers know, that there are plenty of work-arounds for IP blocking, should people chose to use them; and without operator co-operation, the chances of the French government enforcing their legislation - short of sending the police randomly into people's front rooms and catching them on their computers - is zero. Operator co-operation will only come from those with brand names to protect, so the law will shut out precisely the sort of company that ought naturally to be welcomed in.

Anyone else who wants a bit of the action in defiance of the French government has the playing field wide open, so the black market will flourish. By France's own estimates, it already equates to around 5,000 sites, even before the addition of new rogue operators which are likely to pop up in the way that music file-sharing sites did when Napster first got banned. The music industry has struggled to recover from that position ever since, but the French have chosen not to learn from past mistakes. Instead, they will deny people proper choice and competition and force those who want it to find it in the illegal market. They are failing their citizens in consequence, and it's a shame to see it.

Meanwhile, should you be sunning yourself on the Cote d'Azur this summer and realise you've forgotten to place your weekend's bets on any sport back home with the account you opened in London, unlucky. You can quite legally call your bank which is licensed in England, order from your local bookshop at home, or change your utility provider online while you think of it - not to mention whatever other uses you might want to put the internet to while you relax on your hols. But you can't both adhere to the law and type in the URL of your betting account and place bets in your own country on your domestic sport, because in their wisdom, the French say that's interdit.

Looks like it'll be Tuscany for us this year, then.


  1. Dear sir,
    First of all , excuse me for my english.

    We live in France, and we are very disappointed by this french law. Many french bettors do not approve this law.
    We are shocked to see that Betfair can close French betfair accounts.
    The French law is not below than the European law. Many bookmakers who do not take French license will not close the French accounts.
    With this french law, we are sure that lot of french people will visit betfair.

    Betfair is our only alternative. If we can not bet at betfair, so it's the end of the adventure for us. We are all very sad.
    Please let us continue to hope, to bet, to trade.

    french betfair community

  2. Hi Mattyou

    Believe me, I'm as unhappy about the French law as you are, particularly having spent a long time working with the French government to try to make them see that an open licensing system with a sensible tax rate is the way forward.

    The wording of the law, which requires anyone without a licence to close their business (even if they are applying for one), at the risk of criminal sanctions for failure to comply, will, as I have said in the post, do nothing more than fail citizens like you.

    How many operators comply with that law is very much open to question, and I think your assessment is fair. However, any operator which decides it must comply with the law as it is written will only have one option in the absence of having a licence.

    The decision all operators are having to make is whether they want to comply with the French law, or challenge it on the basis of European law which you allude to. The French law will come in by the middle of May, so we will see shortly how each operator reacts. We will also see how the French government reacts in turn in the event that many continue to operate.

    I fear that whatever happens, the loser here is the French consumer. I know some of those consumers are writing to their local representatives with similar views to those you express here. If you planned to do the same, you may be interested to know that that process is facilitated through the site


  3. Dear Mark,

    Thank you very much for your answer.

    I have few questions in rapport of your comment.
    Sorry for my english...

    Why Brussels don't reacts about this French law?
    Do you think there is a chance to keep our accounts active at Betfair if a group of persons or bookmakers contest the French law on the European court of justice ?
    Are you optimistic about this?
    Finally, if things don't change in how many days (approximatively) our betfair accounts will be closed ?

    Best regards,


  4. First one - good question. I don't know.

    Second and fourth questions: the issue is what the law says and what stance each company ends up taking. I'm afraid the answers to both are still not certain: the law is expected to be in place before the end of May (originally it was the end of April); and I believe that Betfair will communicate our official position when that happens and there is certainty.

    To your third question, as to whether I am optimistic... I always hope people will see sense, but sometimes it takes them a while to do so. My view, often recorded over the last year or two, is that the French law as it was proposed and as it has now gone through will end up seeing betting business drain away from France to illegal sites offshore, at the expense of the French budget ministry and to the detriment of French sport, because customers ultimately will go and find a site that is prepared to offer them fair value, wherever it happens to be based. Sadly, the French government have not accepted that proposition, and it remains to be seen how long the process of a slow drain of French consumers to foreign, unlicensed entities offering fair prices has to go before someone in power wakes up to the reality of the position.

    As things stand, the government appears to me more interested in political solutions, which means protecting existing players rather than putting in place legislation that genuinely works for its citizens. I have put this position at length to Bercy and to others close to this law, but they tell me I don't understand French people and things need to be different in France.

  5. Ok Thank you.

    Bercy is not familiar with the sports betting market . The main motivation is profit.
    But how to make a profit when they don't know the sports betting market ? is impossible.
    French bettors (like all other foreign bettors) are not stupid.
    We're really sad that things did not go in the right direction.
    Wait for the end of May.


  6. Dear Mark,
    i'm sorry for my english, because i'm french.
    Is it possible that Betfair could open a website like Italy own ?

  7. Hi Mark,

    Nice and very interesting thoughts on this blog, but sad news as well :(
    I can confirm the above comments.
    There is a betfair community in France, and people are disappointed and confused by your decision.
    I know that the law prohibits betting exchange, but I hardly understand the reason why you dont plan to offer a restricted offer as you do in Italy.
    Betfair experience may be worthless without any trading opportunity, but I'm sure you understand it's harsh to be completely excluded from your services.
    As compared to Italy, are there specific issues with the french legislation that disqualify the possibility of a retricted platform in France ?

    Of course I know you're not responsible for this law, and I guess you have your own financial and strategic motivations. But an 'italian-like' platform would prevent our accounts to be closed and may keep a link between Betfair and its french customers.
    To put it more directly, let's say that your faithfull french customers -some for more than 7 years- do not deserve to have all their bridges towards betfair cut.



  8. how come betfair doesnt share any info with their customers?

  9. Dear Sir

    I am very disapointed about frenh law! I am french and if betfair close french account, I must give up betting world! I bet only on exchange market and I hope Betfair allow frenchies account even if the law is bad ! Please Mark, save the french account!!!

    A frenchie betfair user

  10. I'm also a french user of Betfair and me too I'm very sad and disappointed about this french law. Our only hope is Brussels now I think...

  11. Having moved from the UK to France some years ago I obviously transferred my Betfair account there. I was disappointed to see out of the blue one day to see that I was not able to access my account because a Trench IP address was flagged up. On visiting the UK I tried to log in only to find my account closed (despite current Ante Post bets) which cannot be traded. I think it a disgrace that Betfair have not contacted me at at time with any form of warning or explanation. At what date did this French law come into effect ?