French seeking court ban on online betting

The French Tennis Federation is taking legal action in Belgium in an attempt to ban online betting on the French Open at the end of May. The case will be heard in detail on April 11 in Liège, the European Union headquarters of the three major websites concerned.

This is not the first time the federation has tried to counter internet betting. Last autumn it invited undercover police into the stands and corridors of the Paris Masters Series event at Bercy, to clamp down on suspicious betting activity. A number of spectators were removed from the stands after allegedly attempting to make online bets via their mobile phones.

But the federation had little control over what happened outside the stadium. According to its own estimates, the tournament generated betting worth up to GBP 750m. „About 150 sites offered to take bets on the matches at Bercy,“ said Jean-François Vilotte, the federation’s managing director.

„On Betfair alone, the leading site by far, bets worth EUR 230m (GBP 173m) were placed. In all, we can estimate that between EUR 500m and EUR 1bn was committed during the tournament, peaking at EUR 15m per match in the final rounds,“ Vilotte added.

Although hundreds of websites offer online betting, the FFT is concentrating its legal action in Belgium against just three: Bwin, Betfair and Ladbrokes. It hopes that a decision in its favour would set a precedent or at least encourage others to think twice.

As well as the case before the Belgian courts, a similar lawsuit is planned in Germany. The federation has also brought a case in France against two other sites, Unibet and Expekt, accusing them of having already offered betting on Roland Garros.

The federation has two reasons for taking action. It claims that as the French Open’s organising body, it has the sole legal right to the commercial proceeds. But also in the background lies the threat of corruption: it argues that the risk of match-fixing is directly proportional to the amount of money gambled. „The more bets there are, the greater the risk,“ said Vilotte. „Even if there’s no proof, the suspicion is already there and that damages the image of the event.“