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Apparently the French aren't getting the message.

Even after the recent decision by the European Court of Justice in the Placanica case that criminal penalties are almost never appropriate in online gambling cases, the French have continued to draw a hard line.

A French court stuck Patrick Partouche of the Partouche group with some hefty fines and suspended jail time. Partouche Interactive operated out of Belgium, and Partouche himself was working behind the scenes with the online poker site Poker770.com.

In what seems to be a clear violation of the ruling in Placanica, Patrick Partouche was given a 12-month suspended sentence and a €40,000 fine yesterday for his involvement with online poker site Poker770.com.

Partouche International also got stiffed €150,000 for its online gaming activities targeting French players. This comes on the heels of requests for "interviews" with numerous online gambling executives, and the increasingly hardline pressure on those accepting advertising from online gambling companies.

Brown blows

Rumours that Gordon Brown would entice online gaming operators back to the UK with a minimal tax rate of two per cent proved off the mark, as he proposed a tax rate of 15 per cent.

That provoked a big yawn from the gambling companies, and a general sense that Brown blew an opportunity to take the industry in a positive direction.

Sportingbet on the rise

Insurance giant Prudential upped its stake in Sportingbet Plc last week, continuing a streak of good news for the company.

The company took it in the shorts after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) as its shareprice crumbled from a high of £451.75 to a low of just £0.31 at one point. The purchase, along with a rare spate of good news for the industry as a whole, drove its share price up about 10 per cent overnight. The possible takeover by Austrian operator Bwin has also applied upward pressure to the stock's value.

More Congressmen enter the fray

Barney Frank is not the only one contemplating changes in the way the United States approaches the online gambling business. According to a report in Onlinecasinonews.com, Nevada lawmakers Shelley Berkley and Jon Porter have decided to back a study to determine whether online gambling can be regulated, rather than banned.

The 18 month study would provide an avenue for discussion, at the very least. It seems doubtful, however, that the Democratic Congress would expend a lot of political capital on passing online gaming reform when it can continue holding the Bush Administration's proverbial feet to the fire over any number of administrative failings.

In short, they'd rather have Rove by the balls than regulate online gaming, particularly in the runup to the 2008 presidential election.

Chinese khaki torture

The Chinese have taken an even stronger stand than the French, as khaki-wearing internet junkies are now being sent to military juvenile bootcamps to learn the error of their ways.

According to Reuters, the Chinese have decided that tough love is the only approach for these miscreants, who gamble in virtual currencies and in extreme cases pay the ultimate sacrifice for their internet obsessions.

The Internet Addiction Treatment Centre (IATC) in Daxing county utilises both "therapy" and military drills to essentially deprogram the millions of young net addicts that at least in the Chinese press are tearing the country apart, much akin to America's mysterious crack babies of the early 90s.

The government recently busted a massive internet gambling ring in Shanghai, and has discussed banning games it considers overly violent.

China's explosive growth has created an entire generation of nouveau riche addicted to online games, gambling, pornography, cybersex, and chats. "I gradually became obsessed," said Li Yanlin, a university student whose grades plunged after he became addicted to internet games. But after several weeks at the Daxing facility, the 18-year-old said he "recognised the falseness of online gaming".

I'll bet.

According to the report, the centre is run by an army colonel from the Beijing Military Hospital. Patients from the ages of 14 to 19 live in common dormitories. At 6.15am come the morning calisthenics, and then a lively march on the cracked concrete grounds in military fatigues. Complete with Hollywood-style drill sergeants barking orders, the camp seems like Jerry Bruckheimer's bizarre fantasy of what life in a totalitarian society must be like. In a softer touch, they also get group and solo counselling. After all, who really needs violent video games? Therapy apparently includes patients simulating war games with laser guns.

That ought to do the trick. ®

Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office

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