Some Background On French Gambling
The history of gambling in France dates all the way back to at least the 1500s when the queen was added to decks of cards. The French deck was the forerunner of the 52-card deck used today all over the world. The lottery has also existed in France since the 16th century. It comes as no surprise that gambling proper was introduced as a gentleman’s game to the now United States of America. It was the French influence along the Mississippi trade route that has continued to broadly impact the world.
Playful mathematicians in France (and Monks) can be credited with having invented some of today’s most popular casino games. Roulette was introduced in the 17th century, and in 1842, the Blanc brothers came up with the idea to increase the house odds by adding a zero to the wheel. Casino blackjack evolved from another French game, vingt et un (which literally means 21), introduced in the late 18th century, and in the 19th century the French originated pari-mutuel betting and the game of chemin de fer which is similar to baccarat. However, the one form of gambling which more than any other contributed to the growth of the industry in France was slot machines, which were legalized in 1988, a year after the minimum legal age to gamble in France was lowered from 21 to 18.
Today gambling in France is under the control of the government. Horseracing is controlled by Le Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU) while another organization, Francaise de Jeux (FDJ) regulates lotteries and sports betting. Both organizations have maintained their respective monopolies for many years. French casinos are licensed and regulated by the Ministry of the Interior. A special police force called Sous Direction des Courses et des Jeux is responsible for investigating any alleged crimes relating to gambling, including illegal gambling.
The French Legal Situation
Online gambling is legal in France, but highly regulated. In 2001, PMU and FDJ received licenses to offer their services online. But while online wagers were permitted on both horseracing and sports, there was no such provision for casino gambling. Furthermore, when foreign operators tried to infiltrate the French market, the government took a hard line against it, determined to limit online gambling to the licensed sites within the country.
The European Union (EU) found the French Government’s practice of not allowing players to gamble on foreign websites to be not complying with its regulations, and in 2007 requested that France amend its laws. However, the Government ignored the request until 2009, at which time it finally introduced a bill to legally open the market to other countries in the EU. The Government was still being criticized because only a limited range of services were covered and huge taxes were being imposed. In May, 2010, just in time for the 2010 World Cup, the French Gambling Act was passed.
Under the 2010 French Gambling Act, betting on horse races, sports, and poker were all legal, based on the premise that wagering depended at least in part on knowledge or skillful play. In contrast, online gambling continued not to be allowed on casino games which were viewed as being too addictive. An organization known as ARJEL, short for Autorite de Regulation des Jeux en Ligne (the Regulatory Authority for Online Games) closely supervises all online gambling in France. ARJEL also publishes a list of currently approved online gambling operators. These companies, like PartyPoker and PokerStars, are given 5 year licenses to offer online sports betting, horse racing, and poker and are allowed to compete with France’s state-owned gambling sites.
French players who try to get on an unlicensed site can expect any of a number of outcomes. They might be unable to access the site at all or be given a warning message stating that gambling on that site is not permitted. Or they may be directed to an equivalent site, if there is one, where they are allowed to play (e.g., PartyPoker France instead of the .com or .co.uk site). Or they can register at the non-allowed site with their location being identified later.
During the first month of legalized online gambling under the new law, 1.2 million accounts were opened and 83 million euros wagered. This constituted more than a 50% increase in wagering as compared to the same period in 2009 when online gambling was limited to state-owned websites.
Then players started protesting because they were being subject to a higher rake than most poker rooms charge (due to the high taxes that the foreign based operators had to face). The result was that some of the companies withdrew from the French market, and the French government is now considering changing its method of assessing taxes, so they will be based on gross gambling revenue rather than the individual bets. The 2010 law, which remains in effect, still bans all online betting on what the government considers games of chance, roulette, blackjack, slots, and other casino games.
Gambling in France Today
Gambling in France is a $35 billion USD industry, with no signs of slowing down. Because of this there is serious consideration being given to an expansion in 2017. This is great news for the locals as well as tourism. Last year represented a nice growth for the country of love and lights. There was a 2.2% growth over the prior year and a belief that that growth will be seen in 2017 as well. Although the average age is 42 in the country of 64 million people there is a desire to draw in the much younger population so as to increase longevity and excitement to the gambling climate.
All types of gambling, including horse racing and pari-mutuel betting continue to be very popular in France. While the Longchamp track in Paris is a world famous tourist attraction, only about 20% of betting on horse tacks takes place at racetracks; 80% of the bets are placed at more than 8,000 PMU licensed kiosks and bars throughout the country. France’s pari-mutuel system is the third largest in the world.
In addition, there are currently more than 160 licensed casinos in France, the largest of which is the Casino des Divonnes les Bains. However, the biggest concentration of casinos is in Paris. Many casinos have a dress code (jackets and ties).
Poker is another form of gambling that has become very popular in France. The country hosts many prestigious poker tournaments, including the annual Grand Prix de Paris which is the first stop on the World Poker Tour.
Online gambling in France generated a total of EUR 325 million in tax revenue for the Government in 2013, a slight decrease from the figures represented for 2012. Of this amount, 79 million euros came from sports betting, 86 million from online poker, and 160 million from horse racing. The overall decline was attributed to online poker with cash game betting down 18% from the previous year and overall online poker revenue down 13%.
Experts believe that the restrictive policies and huge taxes are responsible for the decline in revenue. In addition, poker websites opening in France have the very unpopular policy of requiring French players to be separated from the other international players and just play amongst themselves. It has been reported that 47% of French online poker players are so displeased with the rules that they are instead deliberately choosing to play at unlicensed sites.
Problem Gambling in France
While gambling continues to be very popular in France, it is not as omnipresent as in some countries like Australia. For example, to bet on casino games, one must specifically go to a casino. Only about 45% of French people gamble, as compared to about 82% of Australians. Also, in 2010, only 1.3% of the adult population in France were identified as having a gambling problem. The comparatively low figure is attributed to the fact that when the French gamble, they prefer betting on sports, lotteries, and scratch cards as opposed to casino games. The yearly amount spent on online gambling per person is much less (about EUR 570) than it is among Australians.
Since the enactment of the 2010 law, ARJEL reports a decline in the number of problem gamblers. Approximately 3.7% of those over 18 are said to be participating at all in online gambling.