The French regulatory authority ARJEL (Autorité de Régulation des Jeux en Ligne) is charged with supervising, regulating, and licensing online gaming companies to operate within the French market. Companies authorized for French operations are limited to offering services on specific websites to players located within the borders of France only.
The limitations placed on companies – and thus, on players – have prompted quite a few players who make their living via online poker to leave the country, or find ways to play illegally on unregulated sites that have larger player liquidity and more gaming options. A recent study proves just how many players are doing exactly that.
Almost a Quarter of French Players on Unregulated Sites
A recent study by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and the Observatory of Games provided proof that the regulated market in France isolated many players. The report stated that 23.5 percent of poker players compete regularly on sites outside the scope of ARJEL and that remain unlicensed in France.
The regulated market in France requires every poker pot – whether or not it includes a flop – to be taxed at two percent. This was part of the new laws implemented in 2010. Companies that must pay approximately 37 percent of gross gaming revenue often offer fewer player incentives as a result. Major sites like PokerStars and Winamax are licensed in France and maintain solid customer relations, but the high stakes tournaments and cash games are often lacking, and drive players out of France.
With player pools already limited to French players only, customers often go elsewhere, illegally if they must. The same OFDT and ODJ study showed that only 8.9 percent of horseracing bettors use gray market sites, and only 4.5 percent of sports bettors follow suit.
Market in Decline
In January, ARJEL released the final numbers for the fourth quarter of 2013, providing further evidence of the market’s continuing decline of late. Stakes for online poker cash games took a dive during the quarter with a 23 percent decrease to €1.2 billion ($1.656b), and gross gaming revenues were down 12 percent to €65 million ($89.7m).
Former ARJEL President Jean Francois Vilotte has commented on the problem since his departure from the regulatory body. He realizes that the lack of liquidity and player sharing among countries – like Italy and Spain, which face the same issues – is hurting an industry that has the potential to thrive. But despite his protestations, the French government has ignored the pleas for liquidity and instead focused energy on other industries that are more profitable.