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More Gaming Firms Prepare To Flee U.s. Ahead Of Ban

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Tuesday October 10, 9:31 am ET By Pete Harrison http://biz.yahoo.com/rb/061010/leisure_gaming.html?.v=2LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Leisure & Gaming (London:LNG.L - News) and payment processor FireOne (London:FPA.L - News) joined the list of companies fleeing a U.S. ban on online gaming on Tuesday, as signs emerged that Europe is to open up its gambling market.Leisure & Gaming said it would stop serving U.S. gamblers if President George W. Bush signed into law a ban that was unexpectedly passed by Congress at the start of this month.Leisure & Gaming is in talks to sell its operations in the United States, it added.Payment processor FireOne said it would stop serving U.S. gamblers after the ban. It warned this would have a "significant impact" on its business, knocking 26 percent off its share price by 1254 GMT.The statements followed more bad news from the online gaming sector on Monday, with World Gaming (London:WGP.L - News) fighting for survival and sector-leader PartyGaming (London:PRTY.L - News) earmarked to exit the FTSE 100 index after losing 63 percent of its value last week.World Gaming asked the London Stock Exchange to suspend its shares as it was unsure it could continue trading, while larger rival Empire Online (London:EOL.L - News) said it was looking to invest its $250 million cash pile outside the troubled sector. EUROPEAN ACTIONThe sector lost $7 billion in value last week after the U.S. Congress approved a bill making it illegal for companies to accept bets over the Internet or for credit card companies to make payments to online gambling sites.PartyGaming and 888 (London:888.L - News) were the first two big operators to signal a withdrawal.By contrast, the European Commission's internal market chief, Charlie McCreevy, said on Tuesday that legal action would be launched against France, Italy and Austria this week for running gambling monopolies, and he said there were more to follow."It will be Austria, Italy and France on Thursday, if everything goes according to plan," McCreevy told reporters. "I reckon overall there will be 15 or 16 member states," he added.France has been widely criticized by gambling firms for arresting the two heads of Austrian betting firm Bwin.com (Vienna:BWIN.VI - News) last month to investigate alleged violation of its gaming laws. Bwin's shares were up 2.7 percent at 15 euros.Meanwhile, Sportingbet (London:SBT.L - News) would probably not reduce its operations in the wake of a ban, its chief executive said in an interview with the Antigua Sun newspaper.Sportingbet has yet to clarify its future strategy in the wake of a ban.Chief Executive Nigel Payne, who is in Antigua for talks with government officials, was quoted as saying: "I can't promise ... but I can say that it is extremely unlikely that we would have to downsize our operations."

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