Premiere to shutter wagering net

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COLOGNE, Germany -- German pay TV group Premiere is shutting down its sports-betting channel Premiere Win as German politicians debate whether to maintain the country's state monopoly on gambling.

Premiere announced Monday that it will shut down Premiere Win by the end of the year, though Premiere might shift its sports-betting operations to a third-party broadcaster.

Premiere launched the betting channel in August 2005. Initially featuring wagering on horse races, Premiere planned to expand to allow pundits to place bets on everything from European soccer matches to U.S. football games. At the time, Premiere CEO Georg Kofler forecast revenues of up to €1 billion ($1.3 billion) from sports betting by 2008.

Legal uncertainty surrounding private betting operations in Germany, however, has made it difficult for Premiere Win to expand.

Betting on sports events is a legal grey area in Germany. The government maintains a monopoly on gambling operations, including sports betting, but a handful of commercial operators like Betandwin and Gera have valid gambling licenses issued by the former East German government before German unification.

Several German broadcasters, including Premiere, RTL and sports channels DSF and Eurosport, offer on-air betting services.

On Thursday, the premiers of Germany's state governments will meet in Berlin to decide whether or not to maintain the state monopoly on sports betting or to open the market to commercial competition.

A lobbying group that includes Premiere, sports channel Eurosport and several professional German sports teams on Monday appealed to legislators to privatize the gambling market.

"The goal should be clear, binding rules for all participants, be they private or government organizations," said Jan Pommer, managing director of Germany's professional basketball league and spokesman for the anti-monopoly lobby. "Protecting consumers from gambling addiction has to be a key element in the legislation but also protecting jobs in the betting industry."

State politicians, however, are expected to vote to maintain their gambling monopoly. Politicos have come under pressure from amateur sports groups, which receive a portion of the revenue generated by government-run betting operations such as Toto and Oddset.

Professional teams oppose the state monopoly because it prevents them from signing lucrative gambling contracts with private companies. Theo Zwanziger, president of the German Soccer Association has said the group will sue the government for damages if it upholds the state monopoly.

In March, Germany's supreme court ruled the state's monopoly on sports gambling to be illegal. The court provided a loophole, however, if state-run betting operations restrict advertising of their services and set up programs to fight gambling addiction (HR 3/29).
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