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'.2
This definition is often broken down into four criteria. A prohibited gambling offer is regarded as any game that is offered to the public; that presents a chance of gain for the players; whose outcome partially results from chance; and that requires a financial contribution from the player, regardless of the actual designation and nature of the game, and whether a later reimbursement of the financial contribution is possible or not.
In addition, the HSC 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.3ii 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.320-1 of the HSC, and 'such interdiction shall also apply to games whose functioning relies on the player's skills' pursuant to the same Article.
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 enterprise
The National Gambling Authority (ANJ) is an independent administrative authority, notably competent for issuing licences to online gaming and sports betting operators – detailed below – and since March 2022, ordering internet service providers to block access to sites that offer illegal gambling and sites and that advertise it, under the control of the administrative judge.4La Française des Jeux
The French National Lottery was created in 1933 for the purpose of aiding war veterans. The 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, on 11 April 2019 through the PACTE Act, and the government decided to support the transfer of the majority of the capital of the FDJ to the private sector by organising state control over the company, notably through the presence of a government commissioner on the board of directors.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 ARJEL (now the ANJ) 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 French territory and has also become one of the largest operators of online sports betting in France.
Since 1 January 2020, the operation of any new game by the FDJ or the PMU is subject to the ANJ's prior authorisation, which may be suspended or withdrawn at any time. The ANJ may also require the withdrawal of any commercial communication made by the FDJ or the PMU containing excessive gambling incentives.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–I.vi.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, however, have 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 authorised since 2017 on a trial basis by the French National Assembly.Licensed online gambling operators
The FDJ and the 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 (including the FDJ and the PMU).
The licensing process and specific obligations imposed on online gambling operators are detailed further in Section III.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, but the creation of any new ones 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 or within a radius of 100 kilometres around it. This interdiction is still applicable today, which makes Paris the only European capital without a casino.5
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. Since 1 January 2018,6 an experimental law – expiring on 1 January 2025 – suppressed the specific regime applicable to gaming circles and authorised the government to experiment 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 geographical 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.7v Offshore gamblingOnline gambling
If the territorial scope of gambling law obviously limits the actions that the French authorities can undertake to prevent offshore casinos targeting French consumers from a legal point of view, several mechanisms have been implemented by law to fight these practices and limit online access to these casinos from France.
The ANJ is, therefore, now authorised to order internet service providers and hosting providers to block access to reported websites and search engine operators to stop referencing them.
The ANJ 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; French authorities simply insist 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.8 In particular, such casinos are only allowed to operate:
- outside the administrative limits of seaports, as regards ships transporting passengers operating on a regular service to or from ports of the European Union; and
- in international waters as regards other ships.9
Legal and regulatory frameworki Legislation and jurisprudence
Most regulations applicable to gambling and betting operations under French law are contained in the Civil Code, the HSC and the Online Gaming Law, but the provision of a number of other gambling products is governed by specific laws and regulations.
Civil, commercial and criminal courts have all rendered decisions whose study is relevant when considering French gambling law as an ensemble, but statutes remain the primary source to examine in France. In terms of gambling, French case law is mostly limited to the interpretation of that primary source.
Over its decade of existence, the ARJEL (now the ANJ) has delivered a number of decisions and opinions that have helped to outline the French gambling landscape, and the ANJ website, on which all the decisions taken by the ARJEL and the ANJ are available, is one of the first to consult when considering whether an online gambling activity could be licit under French law.ii The regulatorLand-based gambling regulator
The activities of the FDJ and the PMU as holders of exclusive rights are supervised by the ANJ.
The Ministry of Home Affairs issues all land-based gaming licences, regardless of the type of establishment considered. While the opening of any casino or PMU retailer has been subject to prior authorisation from the Ministry for years, a 2017 decree has imposed the same obligation for the opening of any FDJ retailer.10
The Renseignements Généraux (the intelligence division of the French police) was for a very long time responsible for enforcing compliance with French gambling law, but was dismantled in 2008 as part of a reorganisation of the French intelligence services. The Service Central des Courses et Jeux (SCCJ), a new police service specifically focused on gambling activities and responsible for the surveillance of gambling establishments and hippodromes, was then created by the adoption of a decree.11
If local prefects perform most of the day-to-day administrative functions in relation to land-based gambling, diverse commissions (in particular, several committees within the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry for the Economy and Finance) have exclusive regulatory powers in relation to specific gambling activities.Online gambling regulator
Online gambling in France is supervised by the ANJ,12 which is, in particular, responsible for granting licences, enforcing online gambling regulations, as well as fighting against gambling addiction, illegal gambling websites, and fraud and money laundering.iii Remote and land-based gambling
Land-based gambling does not have an actual definition under French law. Remote gambling does not have a legal definition, either. The activities authorised under licence by the Online Gambling Law are indeed remote gambling, but they only cover internet-based gambling services and one should therefore consider that it does not apply to any other form of remote gambling (through post or phone communication, in particular). One should, however, note that the French authorities consider that the licence granted to online gambling operators authorises them to offer mobile phone applications to provide access to their services, if such applications offer the necessary guarantees in terms of security and if the offered services are compliant with the granted licence.iv Land-based gamblingNational lottery
The national lottery is called the Loto and is managed by the FDJ, as detailed above.
Besides the Loto, EuroMillions and the other games of chance offered by the FDJ, lotteries that are made exclusively for charitable or non-profit purposes, traditional lotto and bingo games offered to a limited audience for an insignificant price, fairground lotteries and promotional lotteries offered within the context of marketing campaigns, can also be authorised, subject to compliance with a number of specific rules.Horse betting
Betting offers on horse racing are subject to exclusive rights held by the PMU, as detailed above.Sports betting
Sports betting has been allowed in France since 1985, 13 but has been subjected to a monopoly. The FDJ, the semi-public company that holds exclusive rights on lottery games, was given exclusive rights on the organisation of sports betting in French territory. If that holding of exclusive rights still exists today, its scope has been reduced to cover only land-based sports betting since the adoption of the Online Gambling Law. The ANJ can prohibit betting or gambling on a specific match, for example, in the event of serious and corroborating evidence of match-fixing practices prior to a game.Casinos
Casinos are heavily regulated, and the very nature and rules of the games that they are allowed to offer is determined by the public authorities.Gaming circles and clubs
Gaming clubs must obtain a specific licence from public authorities and they are allowed to offer even fewer games than casinos, but they are not subject to the specific geographical restrictions applicable to casinos.Greyhound racing and cockfight betting
Greyhound betting is also allowed, but greyhound races are not very popular in France, and the audience interested in gambling on such events is quite small. The audience interested in betting on cockfights is even more limited, but the practice remains tolerated as part of a cultural exception specific to very few localities.v Remote gambling
Any operator, whether foreign or France-based, that intends to market online gambling services targeting French users needs to apply for a gambling licence with the ANJ.
To assess whether an operator targets French users, several criteria will be taken into account, and the authorities will, in particular, verify whether the website is registered with a .fr domain name or drafted in the French language and whether the offered services are blocked for French users or presented in a manner that appears to specifically target French users. For instance, French courts have considered that a foreign-based online gambling website registered with a .fr domain name, containing the mention 'First Poker Website in France' and indicating a French contact phone number, should be governed by French law.vi Ancillary matters Protection of minors
Specific decrees expressly forbid the provision of any gambling services to minors and the payment of any gambling gain to minors.14 By the adoption of the PACTE Act on 11 April 2019, the legislator empowered the government to establish a fine for the sale or free offer of gambling to minors. In this regard, two fourth-class offences (up to €750) punishing non-compliance with the prohibition on the sale or free offer of gambling to minors and the failure to post notices aimed at protecting minors and persons prohibited from gambling were introduced.
The participation of minors in gambling activities is only allowed for very specific types of games, such as lotteries in relation to non-profit purposes, fairground activities and traditional bingos.
Licensed online gambling operators must require all players to indicate their age at subscription and upon every subsequent visit to their websites. In addition, their websites must feature a warning stating that minors cannot participate in gambling activities, whose precise contents and appearance are strictly regulated. Under this same logic, the new version of the professional regulatory authority for advertising (ARPP) Gambling Code created practical and concrete provisions not to encourage minors to gamble, by stating that 'gambling advertising shall not, in any way, depict minors in a purchasing or gambling situation, even if they are accompanied by adult(s)', adding a commitment from operators that the persons appearing in the advertisements must be over 25 years old.Protection against gambling addiction
Any individual who wishes to fight his or her gambling addiction can request his or her voluntary inclusion15 on a list managed by the ANJ online of compulsive gamblers, which is communicated to casino, gaming club and gambling website operators.
All such operators must actively prevent listed players from participating in any gambling activities. Licensed online operators are also required to:
- display information on their websites regarding the existence of the list and the possibility for players to receive help;
- offer self-exclusion mechanisms to players seeking temporary or definitive withdrawal from the games;
- immediately terminate the account of any individual that becomes listed; and
- require, as part of their account creation processes, that players set a weekly limit on the amounts that can be transferred from their bank account to their gambling account and on the cumulative amount of stakes they can gamble.
FDJ and PMU retailers are not required to verify whether players are listed as compulsive gamblers.Personal licences
Land-based casino managers and board members must obtain an authorisation from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which can be suspended or revoked at any time. Newly authorised staff members must undergo special training to monitor players and detect signs of compulsive and addictive gambling.16Software
Pursuant to the ANJ's guide on the technical requirements that online gambling operators must comply with, the software (and each new major version of the software) must be approved by the ANJ prior to the beginning of any online gambling operation using the software concerned.vii Financial payment mechanisms
Prior to using online gambling services, players are required by French regulation to open a player account.
French regulations provide for specific rules for the funding of players' accounts, as well as for the reimbursement of funds to players. A player's account may only be credited by its holder or by the gaming operator either for winnings earned by the player or as a promotional offer.
Provisioning of a player's account by its holder may only be carried out by means of payment instruments issued by a duly authorised payment service provider (PSP), including payments by credit card, prepaid card, electronic money wallet and wire transfer.
The player's assets can only be transferred to the player's payment account. The player must communicate to the operator the references of this account when opening his or her player's account. However, cryptocurrencies in themselves are not covered by the categories of payment methods authorised.