888 considers French interview request

Gaming company 888 Holdings was facing more questions over its overseas operations today after it emerged French authorities wanted to interview its former chief executive John Anderson.

Gaming company 888 Holdings was facing more questions over its overseas operations today after it emerged French authorities wanted to interview its former chief executive John Anderson.

The company, which was forced with other gaming sites to withdraw from the US following new legislation last year, said the French request was being considered by its lawyers.

An 888 spokesman did not confirm whether Mr Anderson – who is still a non-executive director – would attend the interview.

Analysts said the company’s sponsorship of French football club Toulouse - which ended three months ago – was a possible reason for the request.

Last September the two joint chief executives of Austrian gambling site Bwin were arrested just before announcing a sponsorship deal for another French first division team, AS Monaco.

In France, betting and gaming are controlled by a state monopoly and online gaming companies are not allowed to seek customers through publicity.

Arbuthnot analyst Paul Leyland, who has a sell rating on the company, said: “888 has been one of the most vocal companies in defending its EU ’free trade’ position.

“This approach is clearly far less sensational than the arrest of the Bwin CEOs but it underlines the fact that national governments do have the ability to restrict offshore operations.”

He added: “We doubt liberal interpretations of EU directives will cut much ice with the French government.”

888 said today that French revenues and income formed an “immaterial” share of the company’s business.

But Numis analyst Richard Carter added the news was “negative for sentiment” despite the country accounting for less than 5% of revenues.

The firm’s share price was nearly 8% lower today and also dragged down rival PartyGaming, whose stock fell almost 6%.

The revelations follow an upbeat trading statement two weeks ago, where 888 said overall gaming revenues were ahead 7% and the company reported progress in replacing lost US business. Non-US sales increased 8% to $157m (€120m).

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