The French Homeland Security Code (HSC) defines gambling as 'any operation made available to the public, regardless of its designation, for the purpose of causing the hope of a gain whose realisation depends, even partially, on chance and in consideration for which the operator requires a financial contribution from participants'.
This definition is often broken down into four criteria. A prohibited gambling offer is regarded as any game: (1) that is offered to the public; (2) that presents a chance of gain for the players; (3) whose outcome partially results from chance; and (4) that requires a financial contribution from the player, regardless of the actual designation and nature of such game, and whether a later reimbursement of the financial contribution is possible or not.
In addition, Law 2010 476, dated 12 May 2010, relating to the opening and regulation of the online gambling market (the Online Gambling Law) specifies that 'online gambling' should be seen to be any gambling or betting operation performed exclusively through an online communication service, and that 'online gambling operators' are all persons offering to the public, on a regular basis, online gambling or betting services with stakes having a monetary value and under terms and conditions that constitute a standard agreement to be accepted by the players.ii Gambling policy
Under French law, agreements relating to gambling and betting are to be construed as aleatory contracts, in which the importance of the profits and losses incurred by either or both parties shall depend on the occurrence of an uncertain future event.
Gambling on games of chance has been forbidden for a very long time under French law, and this prohibition is currently expressed in Article L.322-2 of the HSC.
In addition, a new Article L.322-2-1 has recently been introduced specifically for the purpose of indicating that 'such interdiction shall also apply to games whose functioning relies on the player's skills'.
The classic differentiation that existed under French law between wagering on games of chance or wagering on games of skill – the former being forbidden and the latter licit – has thus been abandoned, and both types of wagers are now explicitly prohibited under French law, as French authorities considered that the dangers of compulsive and addictive gambling do not vary with the degree of skill or chance required.
If the prohibition of gambling can thus be considered a general principle of French law, it is important to note that a very important number of exceptions and specific regimes do exist. From the gambling operator to traditional cockfighting, through the countless online offers, the study of French gambling law is that of a series of exemptions and exceptions detailed herein.iii State control and private enterpriseLa Française des Jeux
The French National Lottery was created in 1933 for the purpose of aiding war veterans. La Française des Jeux (FDJ), the gambling operator, was founded in 1976 and inherited the exclusive rights on the organisation of lottery games that had previously been granted to the French National Lottery. In 1985, sports betting was authorised in France for the first time and exclusive rights on the organisation of such activity were also granted to the FDJ by decree.
However, with the coming into effect of the Online Gambling Law, the FDJ applied for and obtained a licence as an online gambling operator, and was confronted with competition for the first time. The FDJ ventured into the organisation of online poker events, but it quickly withdrew from such activities. The FDJ also developed a complete online sports betting offer.
The FDJ, however, remains a giant in the French gambling market.
Privatisation of the FDJ was voted on 11 April 2019 through the PACTE Act. However, its implementation is subject to the publication of a decree transferring the majority of its share capital to the private sector.The Pari Mutuel Urbain
Horse betting in hippodromes was authorised and regulated in France in 1890. In 1930, horse-racing companies, which were solely allowed to organise horse betting, were authorised to propose betting on their races outside of hippodromes. Those licensed horse-racing companies decided to establish a common structure, the Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU), to provide betters with a centralised service. In 1985, the PMU became an economic interest group, gathering 57 horse-racing companies – all non-profit associations. Today the PMU is the largest European horse-betting operator.
Similarly to the FDJ's situation with sports betting, the PMU has been facing competition online after the online horse-betting market was opened to competition and regulated by the Online Gambling Law in 2010, thus reducing the scope of the PMU's exclusive rights. The PMU also decided to venture into the online gambling market following the coming into effect of the law, and obtained licences from the French Online Gambling Regulation Authority (ARJEL) to offer horse betting, sports betting and poker games online.
The PMU has retained its exclusive rights on the organisation of land-based horse betting on the French territory, and has also become one of the largest operators of online sports betting in France.Casinos
Casinos can be opened following a very specific licensing procedure, which involves public authorities at both national and local levels. Each individual casino needs to obtain a licence from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which can only be granted in specific geographic areas listed by the applicable law, which are detailed in Section I.iv below.Gaming clubs
Gaming circles were non-profit associations that were allowed to offer specific card games of chance to their members as long as the gaming activities they offered remained a simple accessory to other activities of a social, cultural or charitable nature. Gaming circles were not allowed in cities in which there was a casino, but numerous gaming circles existed within Paris. All but one of those have, however, been shut down by public authorities, and the single remaining one has been ordered to modify its legal structure into that of a gaming club, a new type of profit-based legal entity whose creation was recently authorised on a simple trial basis by the French National Assembly.ARJEL-licensed online gambling operators
The FDJ and PMU's monopoly over online gambling and betting ended with the coming into effect of the Online Gambling Law, which authorised licensed privately owned online gambling operators to offer three types of online gambling services: sports betting, horse betting and gambling ring deck card games (although, poker was and remains the only such game authorised).
Many private operators requested and obtained licences when the Online Gambling Law was first passed, but only 15 licensed operators still exist on the French online gambling market today.
The licensing process and specific obligations imposed on online gambling operators are detailed further in the Section III below.iv Territorial issues
Even though the French national territory is generally perceived as a whole and treated as such under the law, a few territorial issues specific to the regulation of gambling do exist.Ancient customs
A few localities in Northern France and on the island of Réunion (a French overseas region located in the Indian Ocean) are allowed to maintain their gallodromes, traditional cockfighting pits, as cockfighting is an ancient local custom that has continued without interruption to this date. A few gallodromes still exist, however, the creation of any new one has been expressly forbidden by the French authorities.Specific law applicable to Paris
A law adopted in 1920 expressly forbids the installation of a casino in Paris, and within a radius of 100 kilometres around it. Such interdiction is still applicable today, which makes Paris the only European capital without a casino.
Instead of actual casinos, several gaming circles existed in Paris, but their offers were highly regulated and limited to a much smaller number of games than casinos. A new law on Paris, which was adopted in 2017 and came into effect on 1 January 2018, however, suppresses the specific regime applicable to gaming circles and authorises the government to experiment for three years with the creation of gaming clubs, a newly created type of legal entity, in Paris.Casinos
Besides the general prohibition of casinos in Paris, the law specifies in much detail the geographic settings in which the operation of a casino can be considered: licences can only be granted by cities hosting significant seaside, thermal or climatic resorts, as well as touristic cities of more than 500,000 inhabitants that are equipped with a national theatre, orchestra or opera, and that contribute more than 40 per cent of the financing of the concerned cultural institution. In relation to the requirements applicable to this last category, French law even goes so far as indicating a minimum number of annual events that should be hosted by those cultural institutions to permit the opening of a casino.v Offshore gamblingOnline gambling
If the territorial scope of gambling law obviously limits the actions that the French authorities can undertake in order to prevent offshore casinos targeting French consumers from a legal point of view, several mechanisms have been implemented by law to fight such practices and limit online access to such casinos from France.
ARJEL was therefore authorised to request internet service providers and hosting providers to block access to reported websites and search engine operators to stop referencing them.
The ARJEL can also propose that the Ministry of the Budget impose measures for blocking financial flows. Illegal operators are also subject to criminal penalties.
French gamblers do not incur criminal penalties – ARJEL simply insists on the fact that players willing to take such risks will not benefit from its protection and are more likely to be taken advantage of by fraudulent websites.Casinos on French ships
The law provides that casinos can be installed on board French commercial ships transporting passengers under specific conditions. In particular, such casinos are only allowed to operate (1) outside the administrative limits of seaports, as regards ships transporting passengers on journeys contained within the European Union, and (2) in international waters as regards other ships.