Not for the first time, French authorities are asking questions about the activities of online gambling companies. Having questioned executives of Austria's BWin.com in recent months, they now want to speak to the ex-CEO of 888 Holdings plc.
In a statement to the London Stock Exchange, 888 Holdings plc said:
"888 is aware of potential press speculation with regard to its French activities.
888 confirms that its non-executive director and former Chief Executive Officer, John Anderson, has been asked to attend an interview with the French authorities.
888 is in consultation with its legal advisers with regards to this inquiry and further announcements will be made in due course if appropriate.
Revenue and income from French customers represents an immaterial percentage of the Company's business."
888 Holdings' share price ended the day down almost 10% as investors made for the hills. Many of 888's rivals' share prices, such as those of Party Gaming, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill also took a drop but only Party's matched 888 for severity as the latter three UK and Irish based companies are well insulated by their property betting estates.
There is no further information about the nature of the issues about which the French want to speak to Mr Anderson. Some reports speculate about 888's interest in sponsoring the French football team Toulouse, a deal since cancelled.
Apart from the BWin arrests, there has recently been stark evidence of life being made uncomfortable in France for online gaming companies, affecting the live scene too. One of the big European live poker events, the European Poker Tour leg at Deauville, was cancelled at short notice causing disarray. The EPT is heavily backed by Pokerstars.com and there are many who would point to that association as a possible cause of the action.
Reports also point out that the French state itself has monopoly interests in two betting operations, Pari-Mutuel-Urbain (betting) and Francaise de Jeux (gaming). It is well-known that France is generally fiercely protective toward any of its industries that are considered under threat from foreign operations, not just in gaming.
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