France rejects online poker liquidity sharing; ARJEL boss throws in the towel

france-rejects-online-poker-liquidityFrance has rejected a proposed amendment to the country’s gaming laws that would have allowed licensed online poker operators to share liquidity with licensed operators in other European Union jurisdictions. The amendment, which had been advanced by the country’s gaming regulator ARJEL, was shot down on Wednesday by members of the National Assembly after a very brief debate. The rejection ends speculation that ongoing discussions between ARJEL and its regulatory counterparts in the newly regulated Italian and Spanish online gambling markets would spark the creation of a pan-European licensed online poker market.

Leading the ‘no’ side in Wednesday’s debate was Committee on Economic Affairs rapporteur Razzy Hammadi, who said he feared that cross-border liquidity sharing would turn online poker into “an uncontrollable ogre” devouring one EU market after another. Hammadi said the fact that France’s online poker market remained stagnant despite increased marketing by its licensed operators indicated that the problem wasn’t a limited range of poker options or onerous taxes but because poker is now “a little out of fashion.”

Hammadi’s argument was apparently more convincing than that offered by fellow Committee member Damien Abad, who castigated the Assembly for disregarding the advice they themselves had sought from ARJEL and warned that their tone-deaf response would only result in more French players seeking out sites not holding a French license but offering a better online poker experience.

The political rejection offers a possible clue behind the announcement late last week that ARJEL president Jean-François Vilotte would step down from his role in January to take a job in the private sector, despite having two years left on his ARJEL contract. Ever since France’s regulated online gambling market launched in 2010, Vilotte had repeatedly asked his government to replace their much-maligned turnover tax with a more appropriate system based on gross gaming revenue, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.