French PMU Faces Threat From FDJ Test


French racing currently enjoys a PMU monopoly | Emma Berry

Horseracing authorities in France are rallying to fight off a new gaming option that could threaten its almost 90-year monopoly on the high street betting market.

The government has agreed to let Française Des Jeux (FDJ), a state-owned lottery and sports betting operator, test live sports betting in about 100 outlets in the country, starting in April. It is reported that FDJ has ordered 18,000 new betting machines regardless of the outcome of the test––an implication that the organisation is already confident of the result.

The government owns and manages FDJ and has pocketed about €2.5bn through its 2016 results, whereas it has only an advisory role in the Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU) board, which pays about €1bn a year in return and supports around 70,000 employees.

“We are going through a rough patch but that could lead to the establishment of a full and comprehensive gaming policy in France,” commented Olivier Delloye, director general of France Galop. “The country is in the process of electing our new president, and a new assembly a few weeks later, but we need to address the situation at some stage, and although there are always better times to do that, now could be as good as any other time to draw a clear roadmap for the years to come.”

FDJ is not exactly a new competitor for the PMU, which was created in 1930. There are 31,000 FDJ outlets spread throughout the country––almost three times the 12,000-strong PMU network. FDJ enjoys a monopoly on lotteries (Loto, Euromillions, etc), scratch cards and sports betting offline, just as PMU is still the only authorised betting operator on horseracing in shops.

However, the online market opened in 2010 on horseracing, sports betting and poker games. Although it hasn't directly affected the high street market, the new competition has boosted French interest in sports betting by 45% on both networks. Total handle on online sports betting in France (€2bn in 2016) is now more than twice as big as that on horseracing (€924m), which has been declining for 15 consecutive quarters. Last year, the total turnover for the PMU online and in shops was €9.7bn, while FDJ boasted over €14bn. The last time PMU had the upper hand over FDJ was in 2008.

With the concern being that the online trend online could be repeated in offline business if those 18,000 live sports betting machines are introduced, racing industry officials are appealing to the French Government's sense of fairness to either stop the test altogether or at least amend the offline market so that PMU can also sell sports live betting in its high street outlets.



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