Online Poker Props Up Sports Betting as COVID-19 Hits Hard in France

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A 68% increase in online poker activity has saved the French betting industry from a complete collapse in Q2.

france eiffel covid
COVID lockdowns in France may have put a damper on sports betting, but online poker has benefitted. (Image: Robin Utrecht/Deadline)

As it has elsewhere in Europe, COVID-19 has rocked parts of the online betting and gaming industry. The latest report from new French gambling regulator L’Autorité Nationale Des Jeux (ANJ) blames the pandemic for the “collapse of online sports betting.”

Reviewing activity in 2020, the ANJ’s report highlights a 56% drop in gross gaming revenue for sportsbooks. However, thanks to the return of horseracing and a surge for online poker, H1 revenue increased 8% year-on-year.

Lockdown Causes Downward Spiral

French operators took their biggest hit during the lockdown period. Lasting from March 16 to May 10, the government-enforced quarantine caused online betting activity to drop 24%.

This year-on-year decline was caused by the postponement of sporting events around the world, including the industry’s biggest source of revenue, soccer.

ARJEL, the country’s regulatory authority until June 2020, reacted by sanctioning betting markets for soccer leagues outside of France, including China, Australia, and South Korea.

That move wasn’t enough to stem the bleeding. However, in the spirit of making the best of a bad situation, it has given French bettors access to markets they didn’t have before the pandemic.

Overall, the lack of action caused the number of active player accounts to fall by 36%. The average spend-per-customer also fell by 32% from €126 (Q2 2019) to €86 (Q2 2020).

By almost every metric, sports betting was on the verge of collapse. Had it not been for online poker, the industry as a whole could have been left in a dire state.

French Online Poker Activity Reaches Record Levels

Increased activity during the lockdown period helped Q2 poker revenue improve by 68%. This year-on-year improvement was only superseded by the sector’s quarter-to-quarter growth.

Per the report, online poker revenue in France hit €44 million during Q1 2020. By the close of Q2, COVID-19 restrictions prompted almost 1.1 million customers to ante up. That surge pushed quarterly revenue to €142 million, which represents a record-breaking increase of 126%.

Horse racing revenue also helped keep the industry afloat during the first half of 2020. Like other sports, racing was put on hold due to COVID-19. However, the industry was one of the first to bounce back, with riders getting back in the saddle on May 11.

As other sports remained in their stalls, horse racing took the lead in May and June. This helped revenue increase by 33%, the highest it’s been since online betting was regulated in France.

So, while COVID-19 has ravaged parts of the industry, there has been some light among the dark. Sports betting regulations have evolved, horse racing has reached new heights, and, most significantly, poker is more popular than ever.

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