France says it wants deal with EU on gambling companies by spring

Brussels, Belgium: France opened talks with the European Union on Tuesday in an effort to end their dispute over gambling and consider ways to open up the French betting monopoly.

The EU‘s head office is looking to end state monopolies on gambling in several European countries in a bid to enforce the EU‘s free internal market and antitrust rules.

It has threatened to bring countries before the European Court of Justice if they do not reform voluntarily.

French Budget Minister Eric Woerth met with EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy to set out a calendar for a political settlement of the issue.

He said technical details should be worked out by February in the hope of reaching a deal by mid-March.

France is taking over the EU presidency in July next year and Woerth said the gambling dispute should be settled by then. „It is not good to have such problems linger,“ he told reporters.

Last week, Petter Nylander, chief executive of online gaming company Unibet Group PLC, was released on bail after being taken into custody on allegations of violating French betting laws.

He was taken into custody on a French arrest warrant, following proceedings filed against Unibet in 2006 by the French lottery monopoly Francaise des Jeux and horse betting monopoly PMU.

These state-owned monopolies alleged that Unibet had breached French national gambling laws.

Nylander was transferred Wednesday to France from the Netherlands. He was released the same day on EUR 200,000 (USD 288,000) bail.

Woerth said the issue came up in his talks with McCreevy, but insisted that even if the time was unfortunate, the government had no way of influencing the judicial decision to seek his arrest.