It's been a little more than two years since France, under pressure from the European community, opened its doors to legal online gambling. In line with our current article series assessing the fallout of Black Friday and its effect on web gambling in Italy, Germany and other burgeoning markets, it seems only fitting to take explore French online betting as well.
Below is an in-depth analysis of French gambling statistics, an explanation of ARJEL and its function as France's licensing and regulatory body and a forecast for the future of online gambling in one of Europe's hottest betting markets.
France's Love Affair with Gambling
The history of gambling in France is long and amorous. Two years before the advent of legal internet betting in France, 29.2 million French citizens – nearly one in every two people – bet on some form of gambling, spending nearly $USD 736 billion. Among these players, a third gambled at least once a week.
Despite this, the French spend much less on gambling than most of their betting-friendly counterparts. Whereas French per capita gambling expenditures average 570 euros per year, Brits top out at 1640 euros and Aussies bet a whopping 1640 euros per year on gambling games.
How to explain the difference? The answer lies in the types of gambling in which French bettors participate. French players are serious fans of sportsbetting, lotto and scratch games. Less popular are casino games, which at 2.55 billion euros in 2008, comprised just 5% of total gambling expenditures.
This is due largely to the fact that France is home to only 196 casinos, all of which are subject to numerous regulations imposed by both the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Finance.
French law permits only resorts, spas and geographic regions that meet specific requirements to operate casinos. Among these geographic regions are tourist cities with over 500,000 residents. Casinos here operate under the jurisdiction of local authorities. However, the process is not simple.
French Online Gambling Since Legalization
In May 2010 France legalized online gambling, and many expected French-based gambling operations to suffer. In fact, French games continued to dominate the newly regulated market, showing an 8.5% increase in participation, and at 11.4 billion euros, exceeding the 10 billion euro mark for the first time in history.
Gambling online has yet to reach such heights. According to reports published by ARJEL earlier this year, the Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) for poker is 314 million euros (+12%), 243 million euros (50%) for horse betting and 115 million (-17%) for sports betting. What these figures show is that while profits in the two years since online gambling's legalization in France show promise, they have a long way to go.
What is ARJEL?
ARJEL is an acronym for the Autorité de régulation des jeux en ligne (English translation: Authority for Online Games). It is an independent administrative authority established by the French Gambling Act in May of 2012 to license and regulate all of the country's online gambling activities.
It has several objectives, including but not limited to:
- issuing licenses and ensuring compliance by gambling operators
- protecting vulnerable populations, particularly youth, and fighting against addiction
- ensuring the safety and fairness of gambling operations
- identifying and barring illegal sites
- preventing fraud and money laundering
With the above in mind, one would think that the creation of ARJEL would be looked upon as a gift to gamblers, whose rights would now be protected. But initial reactions to ARJEL's policies have not been entirely positive. Many view the agency's strict approach to regulating gambling not as a godsend but as a stranglehold.
ARJEL's role, though not to be confused with that of the State, which actually creates online gambling legislation, is to determine which types of services are allowed and who is fit to offer them.
Operators who seek to maintain legal status for their gambling sites thus find themselves in a precarious position. They must balance the strict requirements and limitations set forth by ARJEL with the demands of players who seek the most attractive products. This is particularly difficult when one considers the hefty taxes imposed by ARJEL, taxes that are passed onto users and that operators of illegal gambling sites do not incur.
In 2011 bwin.party digital entertainment merged its bwin france division with Sajoo.fr, the joint venture between bwin and French media giant, Amaury Group. The decision, according to reps at bwin.party, was an effort to “derive greater value for both parties” amidst the “challenging regulatory and fiscal regime that currently prevails in France.”
The Managing Director of SAjoo, Christophe Blot, recently said that his company is “preparing for the revision of French [gambling] law, expected in 18 months, with a strong focus on formulating more attractive offerings.”
He went on to say that French players should “keep in mind that [French gambling law] is a guarantee of protection they do not find at sites based abroad.”
Whether or not the French government will hold true to its promise of revising current online gambling tax policies remains to be seen. Aurelie Filipetti, France's new Minister of Culture and Communication knows the subject well and is poised to take action, and as the below graph shows, more than 70% of online poker and sports betting operators say they intend to pursue French gambling licenses.
Still, the French online gambling sector is congested, and without tax reforms that would allow greater profits for operators, and thus better offerings and bigger earnings to players, rapid development seems unlikely.