Tour ban puts French gaming laws in spotlight

The European Commission is heading for a fresh showdown over France’s gaming laws amid a threat to ban a cycling team from the Tour de France because it is sponsored by an online bookmaker.

Charlie McCreevy, Europe’s Internal Market Commissioner, has expressed support for the Malta-based gambling company Unibet in its clash with the organisers of the world’s most famous cycle race.

Mr McCreevy sees the case as further evidence of France’s attempt to shield state-owned gambling monopolies from online competition. He stepped in after Unibet’s team was barred from participating in four races staged by Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which also organises the Tour. Under French law, only the state-owned betting shop chain, the PMU, the national lottery, Française des Jeux, and casinos are authorised to take bets.

Although Unibet’s team changed its name to Green Cycle Associates, ASO refused to lift the ban. Unibet, which is anxious to overturn the blocking order before the Tour de France starts in July, is suing for €5 million damages.

In a letter to the Malta-based business, Mr McCreevy suggested that France was using specious arguments to stop online bookmakers from taking custom away from its state-run operations.

“The consistency of the French approach is highly questionable, given that other teams sponsored by gaming operators in France, such as the Française des Jeux, are permitted to participate and given that the main sponsor of the event is in fact a gaming operator, the PMU. All this is in breach of internal market rules.”