SBC News PMU joins AFJEL to lobby on reshaping French gambling's future

PMU joins AFJEL to lobby on reshaping French gambling’s future

SBC News PMU joins AFJEL to lobby on reshaping French gambling's future
Jake Pollard

SBC correspondent Jake Pollard reports on French racing’s tote monopoly Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU) joining the AFJEL union to lobby on two key topics.

The French tote operator Pari Mutuel Urbain has joined the country’s online gambling trade body AFJEL as part of a move to strengthen lobbying efforts by the industry on two key topics: online casino and the potential shape any regulation of the sector would take and the search for balance between the country’s gambling verticals to avoid unfair competition.

PMU operates the country’s land-based tote monopoly and since the market opened to competition in 2010 has run an online tote, fixed-odds book and poker site, but until now  had decided against joining AFJEL.

Strength is unity

The move by a major French stakeholder like PMU to join AFJEL is a major coup for the pure players as it will add the lobbying power of one of France’s historic operators. In the process PMU CEO Emmanuelle Malecase-Doublet was named  AFJEL Vice-President and Betclic CEO Nicolas Béraud was reelected as President of the trade body.

The move should also be seen in the context of Francaise des Jeux’s highly aggressive M&A policy since it was privatised in 2019. In the past year it has acquired Premier Lotteries Ireland, ZETurf and recently put forward a €2.6bn offer for Unibet parent company Kindred Group.

FDJ is also the only French operator that is allowed to be active across all gambling verticals in both online and offline settings, something AFJEL has for many years pointed to as unfair competition. Béraud recently told La Tribune that FDJ’s reach and scope made it very “complicated for smaller operators to exist and make money” and asked the authorities to establish a “fair balance between all operators and that (competition) distortions are corrected”.

Malecase-Doublet told Les Echos this week that AFJEL will be “vigilant to avoid any unfair competition” in the context of “a consolidating market”.  The PMU boss’s mention of market consolidation seemed to be a clear reference to FDJ’s offer for Kindred Group, which, if approved, would make it the clear number 3 in French OSB, while its ZETurf acquisition made it the number 2 in online horse racing tote.

A Tough Call

Les Echos added that according to sources close to AFJEL, the syndicate is worried that if FDJ’s bid for Kindred is approved, the group will use its 35,000-strong lottery and offline betting monopoly outlets “to crush the online competition”. But AFJEL was also reluctant to ask the country’s competition authorities to look into the case… because Kindred is a current member of the trade body.

Online casino regulation is a recurring and highly sensitive topic in France. Stakeholders have been calling for regulation for many years and in December Gaming&Co revealed that FDJ was in exclusive talks with the French government with a view to obtaining an exclusive iCasino monopoly in the country.

At the time G&C also noted that should the information be accurate, “events are likely to unfold from February 2024 when the European Commission is expected to have reviewed France’s online digital bill”. When asked if PMU joining AFJEL could be seen within the context of FDJ pushing for the exclusive iCasino licence, one legal source commented: “It’s certainly worth a shot (for FDJ) considering what’s at stake.”

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