Gambling has a rather rich history in France, which is not surprising considering the country has a significant contribution to the creation of several popular casino games that are still played to this day. We should also not forget this is the birthplace of the roulette wheel, which was allegedly created by France’s popular physicist and mathematician Blaise Pascal.
France is also the place of origin of chemin de fer (the original version of what we know as baccarat today) and parimutuel betting. The 52-card packs used by gambling operators worldwide are a French invention as well.
It makes sense that gambling remains a popular form of recreation in a country with so many contributions to this industry. A survey conducted in March 2019 showed that roughly 39% of the French respondents admitted they gamble occasionally on sports, horse racing, lotteries, scratchcards, poker, and casino-banked games.
The French apparently love to bet and it shows in the figures published by the country’s regulator ARJEL. According to a report unveiled by the regulatory body, the licensed online gaming market in France saw a considerable improvement in 2017.
The regulator reported a rise of 8% in stakes compared to 2016, an increase of 2% in the number of active French players each week, and a rise of 18% in locally licensed operators’ GGR (gross gaming revenue), with sports betting being the most dynamic segment growth-wise. Now let’s take a look at the specific laws that govern the online gambling industry in France.
Laws Governing Landbased Gambling in France
In France, wagering on games of chance was prohibited for a long time although various amendments were introduced over the years, exempting certain forms of gambling from the general ban. Such activities should be organized exclusively either in specific venues or be provided by licensed operators with official authorization from the government.
2The French Code of Homeland Security
The French Code of Homeland Security, hereby referred to as the Security Code, comprises a considerable portion of the country’s gambling oversight laws. Article L.324-1 of this piece of legislation prohibits gambling on games of chance with certain exemptions as we previously mentioned.
It states that individuals who are caught offering unauthorized gambling activities, including the provision of games of chance, face penalizations of three years in prison along with hefty fines of up to €90,000. However, if said activities are conducted by organized crime groups, the penalization is even more severe. Such individuals risk imprisonment of up to seven years along with fines of €200,000.
With that mind, landbased casinos in France can offer chance games as long as they do so under the regulations and authorization of the Security Code. The same goes for gambling activities conducted at sea on board of cruise ships or at thermal resorts.
Gambling houses offering card and chance games need to first receive authorization from the French Ministry of Home Affairs. This falls under the scope of Law 2017-257 which was signed into law at the end of February 2017.
As for lottery games, these were legalized by Article 136 of the French Finance Law which passed in 1933. Lotteries are subject to a state monopoly and can be operated expressly by the state-owned entity La Française des Jeux or FDJ.
3Sports and Race Betting Legislation
The FDJ has also been granted the authorization to organize and regulate landbased sports betting in France. French punters can legally wager on sports since the beginning of April 1985. This was made possible with the passage of Decree 85-39 which was repealed toward the end of 2019 by Decree 2019-1562.
The latter laid down new provisions in relation to the parent companies, the products offered by the DGJ, and pari-mutuel wagering. Its purpose is to outline the scope of obligations of the parent companies of the operators that offered such landbased services to French residents.
Online Gambling Legislation in France
France enforces adequate oversight on both the landbased and online gambling sectors. The country has more than 150 brick-and-mortar casinos where locals can engage in table games like poker and baccarat. Slots were decriminalized in 1988 and are also available in some gaming venues.
As for interactive gambling, it was legalized in 2010, allowing for the following forms of online wagering: sports betting, poker (but not the house-banked varieties), and horse race betting. Operators interested in legally servicing French customers must first obtain proper licenses from the local regulator ARJEL.
However, the tough regulatory framework on French soil, coupled with the high taxes, suffice to dissuade many companies from applying for a local license. As for online casino-style gaming, it remains prohibited under French law because the authorities consider it harmful due to its addictive nature. Online games whose outcome is based on chance rather than skill are illegal in France.
Legal Gambling Age, Cryptocurrencies, Taxes, and Gambling-Related Debts
1Legal Gambling Age
French residents can register and place real-money bets online as long as they are at least 18 years old. France-authorized gambling sites do everything within their means to prevent minors from using their services in line with local regulations. All real-money accounts undergo age and identity verification checks to ensure they are not registered by persons below the legal gambling age.
The balance of players from France can be funded only with certain approved banking instruments. Due to the country’s regulations, France-authorized betting sites are prohibited from offering local gamblers the option of funding their balance directly with Bitcoin.
3Enforcement of Gambling-Related Debts
Debts resulting from gambling-related activities are not enforceable in France. With that in mind, exceptions are made in certain circumstances. One example is when a patron buys chips with checks whose value is insufficient and cannot cover the full amount purchased in chips. In this instance, the gambling operator has the right to demand payment of this type of debt.
4Taxes on Earnings
As a general rule, recreational casino gamblers are exempt from paying taxes on their earnings under French law because such activities are not considered a lucrative source of profit. However, an exception is made for professional poker players since this game is not considered to be purely a game of chance. For some people, it is a professional activity and as such, is subjected to the country’s income tax laws.
France Online Gambling Regulator
Online gambling in France is subject to the regulations of the local Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne (ARJEL, Online Gaming Regulatory Authority in English). This is an independent administrative body that was established under Article 34 of Law 2010-476 in 2010. ARJEL is granted the power to oversee and control gambling activities from three distinctive sectors, namely horse race wagering, sports betting, and poker.
Landbased Gambling Regulators in France
The landbased gambling sector in France is overseen by two state-owned regulatory entities. Each one is tasked with the oversight of specific gambling activities like sports betting, lotteries, horse race wagering, and landbased casino games of chance.