France is mostly a gambling-friendly nation with laws that permit most forms of gambling online and in the real world. Current laws restrict French betting sites from offering casino games, but sports betting, poker and horse racing betting are all legal and regulated. Land-based casinos can spread nearly any game they choose.
The French regulation experience has served as a useful lesson in what works and what doesn’t work from a regulatory and business perspective. In the years following regulation, the French online betting industry failed to meet expectations due to punitive tax rates and burdensome regulations. Total gambling revenue figures were disappointing relative to the large, affluent and pro-gambling population of France.
Despite the failings of our politicians, the industry does manage to chug along and still offers a decent number of options for gamblers. Several years later, online betting sites in France are beginning to show improvement. Additionally, the government finally changed its stance on keeping French poker players fenced off from the rest of the world. Now, French players may find themselves seated at tables with players from other countries.
Quick History of Gambling in France: French have always gambled in large numbers, whether legally or by other means. The first instance of gambling regulation in France was horse racing, which was regulated in 1920. State run shops had a monopoly on all horse race betting throughout France. In 1933, the national lottery was also established and once again, was a state owned company which had a monopoly on the industry. Finally, in 1976 legalized sports betting came to France and you guessed it – another state owned, state run monopoly.
France has over 160 state licensed casinos that offer everything from casino games to sports betting to person-vs-person poker. Some of the most prestigious casinos in the world call France home. The legal gambling age in France is now 18.
The Rise and Regulation of Online Betting
France authorized limited forms of state run online gambling as early as 2004. The PMU (Pari Mutuel Urbain) and the FDJ (Francaise des Jeux) were granted government backed monopolies over horse racing, betting games and lotteries.
The EU came knocking in 2006 complaining of French efforts to thwart international competition in favour of local monopoly providers. Chief among the EU’s complaints were French gaming laws that were obviously intended to protect the domestic industry. The EU issued a request the France change its gaming laws. Eventually, France acquiesced with the implementation of the French Gambling Act in 2010 (full text here).
The bill created a new regulatory authority for online gaming called ARJEL. Most notably, the bill broke up the state run monopolies that had run France’s betting industry for the past 40+ years. It also provided much-needed clarity on which games may be offered online. Live sports betting, pool betting and fixed odds were all made expressly legal while spread betting and exchanges became prohibited. Online horse racing betting also maintained its legal status.
Online poker also received the blessing of the French government after they determined it to be a game of skill and not luck. A handful of poker sites jumped at the chance to obtain a French license, but that side of online gaming is also troubled. For one, tax laws take an additional cut out of every poker pot and effectively raise the rake to as high as 8% in some cases.
Additionally, French poker laws prohibited international poker sites from combining player pools between countries. This effectively isolated the French market and made it very difficult for poker sites to build established player bases. If you have played online poker while in France in the last few years, you may have noticed that you were only seated with other French players. Compare this to the UK where it’s normal to join a table with players from multiple countries.
The poker ring-fencing policy finally came to an end in 2016 after Parliament approved a wide-ranging internet activities bill that included a bit of text granting ARJEL the authority to approve combined player pools between licensed French poker sites and foreign sites in other EU/EEA nations. That development is still fairly new as of the time of this writing, but it should go a long way in improving the state of online poker in France.
Online casino games were deemed to potentially addictive and remain prohibited under French law. Slot machines, table games, video poker and other traditional gambling games are all notably absent from licensed betting sites. Players looking for these games have no option but to find a brick-and-mortar casino or take their money to unlicensed foreign operators.
The French Market Today
The French betting sites that have not left the market do manage to turn a profit even if it’s not what operators had hoped when the government first regulated online gambling. Some sites have struggled and closed shop while others continue to do fairly well despite the frustrating legal environment.
With all that said, legal betting sites in France still provide a variety of viable and profitable opportunities for bettors. French authorities are rumored to be reconsidering the prohibition of pool-sharing at poker sites and possibly taking other measures to give the industry a much-needed boost.
Taxes on Gambling Winnings: Gamblers do not pay any taxes on their online gambling winnings in France. As of 2015, poker, horse racing and sports betting are not taxable under current French gambling laws.
Football naturally attracts the lion’s share of online betting handle in France. Licensed operators provide hundreds of markets for Ligue 1, Ligue 2, other domestic leagues and international matchups. Basketball also generates considerable action for local bookmakers. Fo
Texas Holdem and Omaha action is available at every online poker room along with a variety of tournaments and deposit bonuses. France’s ring-fencing policy stifled the potential of online poker, but the country is home to enough players that the larger poker sites manage to attract nearly 10,000 players at a time during peak hours. Now that France has eased the ring-fencing policy, poker is starting to grow once again.
One positive side to French gambling regulation is that it is now super easy and safe to fund your online betting account. Banks, credit card issuers and e-wallet companies all work with the major licensed operators to provide players with same day deposits and withdrawals. Fees are minimal and withdrawals are usually processed within a couple days.
The Future of the Regulated Market in France
In a few years, France may be one of the largest regulated online gambling markets in the world. The French have always had a taste for wagering and their online gambling market has just taken off the ground. If taxes and regulations can keep operators competitive in France, there is no telling how successful online gambling could be in the country.