The general picture of gambling in France presents something of a paradox: it is a country with a culture of gambling that stretches back hundreds of years, yet strong restrictions remain in place for many parts of the industry today. It’s not immediately clear where players stand when they’re looking to gamble online, but in spite of this, gambling remains a popular pastime for millions of French citizens, with the online market growing slowly but surely. Here is an overview of some of the key aspects of gambling in France today.
Despite the fact that it was invented in France in the 17th century, roulette is one game that cannot be played online in the country today. The same goes for online slots and other popular online casino games of chance, as they were all deemed too addictive by lawmakers. Legislation that came into force in 2010 - the French Gambling Act - at least opened up the online gambling sector to provide competition for state-back operators, but the laws still forbid the games mentioned above, as well as spread betting and exchanges like Betfair.
Online poker (a game which also allegedly has its roots in France), sports betting and horse racing betting were all made completely legal by the French Gambling Act, with the idea being that, as opposed to games like roulette, they are reliant on knowledge or skillful play to win.
A regulatory body known as ARJEL (the 'Regulatory Authority for Online Games'), was created by the Gambling Act, and specifically supervises online gambling in France, taking a more active approach to tackling unapproved overseas operators that accept French customers than regulatory bodies in many other countries. ARJEL publishes a list of currently approved online gambling operators, with worldwide favourites like PartyPoker and Poker Stars allowed to compete with traditional state-owned ventures.
France is home to a number of famous land-based casinos that have received worldwide acclaim. In spite of the legislation against their online iterations, the traditional casino fare of roulette, blackjack and baccarat are available across virtually all of them, as are slot machines, which became legal in 1988, a year after the minimum gambling age was lowered to 18 from 21.
In terms of betting, horse racing is by far the most popular of all sports, and the activity is considered by many to be a national pastime. Indeed, much of the tax money generated from gambling companies that offer horse racing markets is reinvested into the sport.
As famous as the cycling race may be, the Tour de France - the world's biggest annual sporting event - doesn’t inspire as much activity from gamblers as horse racing does. However, sites such as Paddy Power and William Hill both offer odds to British punters on the outright winner of the competition well in advance.
There are a few lesser-known sports that are surprisingly popular in France, with handball having a particularly strong following. The French national team is the current Olympic and World Champion, and the French league is so strong that many sports bookmakers even offer French handball markets to the British public.
As is the case in many West European countries, the title of ‘national sport’ has to go to football. As the favourite spectator sport in the land, it is also one of the more popular sport choices for French gamblers, who have two major leagues - Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 - to bet on in the domestic football betting markets.
Football betting in France was given a particular boost by the legalisation of online gambling, with the 2010 World Cup bringing in more than €83 million, around twice the amount that was wagered in the same period the year before, when online gambling wasn't yet regulated by ARJEL.
Despite the fact that online gambling in France appears to be impeded by tough regulation and overt concern about ‘chance’ games, there is considerable interest in these types of games across other parts of Europe, and it may be the case that the French government legalises them in due course due to public demand. The gambling economy has continued to expand across Europe in recent years, with French horse betting, sports betting and lottery sectors all growing noticeably thanks to the emergence of online operators. As a result, many feel that it would be surprising if France continues to exclude its players from the enjoyment of online casino games indefinitely.