France has contributed greatly to the invention of some of the World’s most popular casino games from as early as 1500s. Indeed, Pari-mutuel betting was invented in France way back in 1870 setting the stage for the growth of the betting industry which continued unabated for many years. However, under pressure from the rest of the EU and fearing that the industry was highly attractive to criminals, the government saw the need to formalize the industry in the early 2000’s.
State of the Gambling Laws
The watershed moment was in May 2010 when the government, which was by now also alive to the fact that many enthusiasts were also illegally gambling online denying it revenue, passed the long-proposed French Gambling Act Law (law No 2010-476 of 12th May 2010). In enacting the law, the state targeted at reining on in illegal betting while also opening the doors for the permitted practitioners to flourish. And to oversee the implementation, the act also created the official gambling authority– the ARJEL(Autorité de régulation des jeux en ligne).
But ARJEL doesn’t run the show alone. There is the ADLC (Autorité de la Concurrence), the CSA (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) plus the CNIL(“Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés). The ADLC functions as the Competition Authority ensuring fair competition across the industry, while the CNIL acts as the official Data Protection Authority and has sweeping powers to ensure betting companies respect the privacy of personal data collected from their clients.
Lotteries are still controlled by the state-controlled Française Des Jeux(FDJ) implying that only the FDJ is legally allowed to provide these games because they are accorded special legal status.
In the meantime, the CSA Protects Audiovisual Communication Freedom and plays a major role in determining how gambling firms advertise their services to the French.
In a nutshell, all these developments surely legalized gaming including online bets in the country apart from casino games, spread betting, and betting exchange which the authorities deem too addictive and are not licensed.
The Real Impact of the Law No 2010-476 In France post 2010
In the aftermath, a lot has happened in the French gambling scene. Certainly, there was an immediate boom especially since 2010 was a world cup year (South Africa 2010) with over 1.2 million gaming accounts being opened on licensed internet betting within the first month.
Also, more companies including Casinoco started operating in the country.
But it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing for everyone in Paris in recent years.
First, not all companies have been returning a profit despite ARJEL’s positive growth reports. This has been blamed on the hefty taxation and higher licensing fees facing operators.
Then, the French government has passed and implemented a number of new laws and amendments since then which have made the scene a bit restrictive. For example in 2012, France’s Monitoring Centre for Drug & Drugs Addiction (OFDT) teamed up with its Gambling Monitoring Centre (ODJ) to commission studies on the impact of betting activities after the 2010 changes.
The findings revealed that problem gambling is still a challenge and that that some players were placing bets on illegal online casinos unaware that the sites were fake.
The government subsequently reviewed some of the sections of the old laws culminating in the 2012 Homeland Security Code (Article L.324-1) .
The code reemphasized that permitted games be offered from specific sites or delivered by licensed operators and it has remained that way since then but for a few changes like the 2013 ruling by the supreme court that classified poker as a game of chance.
Online Sites Operating in France
Europe is a leading market for online casinos and so, a good number target the French.
The authorities however don’t recognize licenses issued by anybody else but ARJEL so operators are supposed to go through the regulator when offering wagering services to the French. Indeed, the court has previously ruled that directing one’s gaming activities towards the French players from an offshore casino without ARJEL’s authorization remains illegal. So, internet gaming companies with licenses from elsewhere have to be vetted by ARJEL to access the market.
Regardless, buoyed by the high number of bettors in the country, a number of gambling firms –including those accepting cyptos- have been serving French players for some time now.
I am talking about websites such as mBitCasino and FortuneJack which have made great strides in the country over the past few years. It’s also worth noting that there are no regulations punishing gamers playing on such offshore websites.
The French Authorities Continually Battle Illegal Online Casinos
The industry regulator comes out full guns blazing whenever their investigations nab illegal gaming providers.
In some cases, the authorities block access to the various games through the concerned internet service providers(ISP) ARJEL usually issues formal notifications to the offending websites ordering them to shut operations within a specified time period.
The website is then expected to proceed to filter out their French fans after which prosecution stops.
In the event that the foreign operator does not comply, the regulator escalates the case to Paris’s instance of the all-powerful Tribunal de Grande under the ministry of justice which orders the relevant ISP(s) to restrict access to the website.
In a few extreme cases, the controller has initialized actual criminal prosecution against some of the illegal sites.
About four foreign companies having been criminally charged since 2010 for promoting illegal online gaming casinos which often results in staggering fines for guilty parties.
There have also been suggestions for additional drastic measures such as blocking financial transactions although we are yet to see the first steps towards their implementation despite that countries like Norway are already doing this.
The Government is Cautious About The Bitcoin
Lately, the government has been blaming the emergence of cryptos such as the Bitcoin and Ethereum for fuelling some of the unlawful online betting activities.
This is in continuation of the love-hate relationship between the state and the digital currencies which has been simmering since the entry of the Bitcoin into the market.
Actually, France was, in reality, the first European country to take judicial action against a virtual currency exchange in 2014 after the online exchange was accused of flouting the rules of the agency in charge of regulating the French banking and Insurance sectors.
The central bank has also frequently issued warnings against the volatile nature of the bitcoin on the basis that, even though it doesn’t pose a threat to the country’s economy, it carries an inherent risk for those who have invested in it.
Interestingly, the presence of French teams in the latter stages of the Champions League in 2017/2018 and the good performances of the national football team- the newly crowned World champions- has upped the interest of French gamers.
Paul Pogba, the French Midfielder with the World Cup
This upturn in fortunes has not gone down well with the French financial regulator (Autorité des Marchés Financiers- AMF) .
The AMF has, subsequently, and rather sadly, brought some new crypto laws requiring that platforms offering crypto-betting products to obtain special permission from the authorities.
Summary and the future
France is a regulated market as far as Bitcoin gambling is concerned.
That being said, there are dozens of legalised websites including the popular Stake.com currently providing their services to the French people as per the guidelines of the regulator ARJEL. Additionally, there are no laws punishing players on the illegal websites targeting the French. The government, however, seems somehow lukewarm when handling cryptos and has brought in new laws requiring that all crypto-related products must obtain special permission from the authorities. Moving forward, the regulation seems set to stay and may continue governing play among the French. Overall, the country is largely positive and could be a safe bet for both players and the authorized operators.