A Brief History of Gambling in France

Outline of France With a Roulette and Old Playing Card Background

Vive la France! The homeland of fresh baked buttery croissants and expensive wine from the best grapes. Many starry-eyed lovers have dreamed of strolling around the narrow streets of Paris, and taking a selfie with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Come visit the Tour de France or Paris Fashion Week, and experience a rich palette of emotions. And while you’re here, don’t forget to search for your new favorite gambling venue, as the majority of the games originate in this magical land of liberty.

The difference between France and the rest of the world is that gambling here isn’t forbidden, but merely restricted. Here are some insights into the French gambling culture and its current status in the country.

Back to the Past

It all began in the early 1500s when the Queen was introduced to the card deck. The French variation was the precursor of the standard 52-card deck in use today. This comes as little surprise, because this innovation actually led to the creation of the majority of the popular games you know and love today.

For example, Blackjack, known in those days as “vingt-et-un,” was developed and played by the French Templars, as well the game of Faro.

These two games specifically were introduced to neighboring Britain, and then shipped across the Atlantic to the United States. And with the help of the French living in Mississippi, these card games spread across the rest of the country.

Cards were not the only thing that matured in France. The 16th century also gave rise to the idea of a state lottery, which was applied throughout Europe.

100 years later, Roulette, one of the most popular casino games of all time, was invented. In 1842, the Blanc brothers introduced zero to the Roulette wheel to increase the house edge. Thanks a lot guys.

Other table games, such as poker and chemin de fer (similar to baccarat), developed in France and made their way into Europe and the United States through the decades.

No nation has ever been as democratic towards gambling as France. For example, when slot machines became popular, the government quickly legalized them. In 1997, the state gave its residents an even bigger present, when the government imposed a law that lowered the legal gambling age from 21 to 18.

Legal Environment

France is the foremost country for legal gambling. However, there are huge discrepancies between the offline and online gambling market. As of today, there are over 200 casinos and 16 bingo games halls all over the country.

All of them can be found in official casino guides, where potential gamblers can look through the reviews and make their selections. However, this only relates to brick and mortar casinos.

As for the online gambling platform, the whole situation seems a little biased. Let’s take a closer look at both forms in more detail, in order to understand the difference.

Live Gambling

Any form of gambling in France is regulated by the government and subject to licensing. Land-based casinos should be built in certain areas with designated operating hours. Gaming and casino gambling, sports betting, horse race betting, as well as lotteries, are all overseen and regulated by the Ministry of the Interior and the Budget Minister.

Somewhat ironically the only type of betting forbidden in the country is betting on fantasy sports.

Casino de Monte Carlo in France

In addition to the ministries who serve as the main branches of regulation, there are also special commissions that have been created to monitor gambling operations.

For instance, legal sports betting and lotteries refer to Francaise de Jeux, while horse racing is covered by Le Pari Mutuel Urbain. All illegal activities are monitored and prosecuted by special police forces named Sous Direction des Courses et des Jeux.

Basically, if you are 18 years old, you are allowed to play and wager on basically anything you want in France, and the sky’s the limit for you.

Online Gambling

Now here is the moment when it all becomes a giant paradox. For a long time, online gambling was highly controlled and restricted by the government. In 2001 PMU and FDJ acquired licenses to provide services online.

However, all of this was brought down to regulation of horse racing and sports. Online casinos were banned. Video poker, slots games or any other variant of gambling activity for real money online was labeled illegal.

This situation was further agitated when foreign online gambling sites intervened in French territory. The EU authorities claimed that the regulation of the industry violates the general provisions established for foreign online platforms, thereby pushing France to amend its existing laws.

In 2009 the government back tracked a little and adopted a bill, opening its market to more than 2500 websites, which did not cause any problems for public order and were recognized as legitimate. Nevertheless, their activity was narrowed down to betting strictly on sports and horse racing.

The blowback that followed this concession forced the French government to adopt the 2010 French Gambling Act. From that moment on, online poker and bingo became legal.

Still, the entire situation is not as simple as it seems upon first glance. Real money online casinos are forbidden, as they are recognized as being too addictive. This includes slots, roulette and blackjack.

Now France has a Regulatory Authority for Online Games, which functions as a gaming commission. This regulatory body is responsible for granting licenses to foreign gambling operators, while also publishing a list of the companies that are allowed to operate under the online gambling law.

Unfortunately, the industry is highly taxed, and it is incredibly difficult for small sites to succeed in France.

Additionally, online gamblers grew increasingly frustrated when foreign operators could not run any kind of casino at all, while French user accounts also ended up being blocked. Many poker players received a message that the sites where they played were banned, and some of them were transferred to the sites of other companies like PartyPoker, which they were allowed to play.

The most outrageous thing happened when high tax rates were imposed on bets and cash game pots, which simply made it too expensive for French players to gamble online.

Of course, there are several methods players can use to bypass these strict laws, such as changing and hiding their IP address or by using UK accounts, which is actually a fairly common practice in France.

Last but not least, social gambling is completely legal in France. To be more precise, there are no regulations in this regard, as this kind of pastime is not considered to be supporting games of chance, nor to be an overly addictive activity.

Playing for virtual money or bonuses is something anyone can practice without any restrictions whatsoever.

Present and Future

Numbers show that this industry, with its $35 billion annual turnover, is not slowing down; and is expected to expand in the years ahead. Last year’s growth figures stopped at 2.2%, and there is no sign of any future drop on the way.

With an average age of 42, this nation of 64 million people has so many ways to progress in gambling in the coming years.

Sporting events such as the World Cup may help boost both offline and online gambling revenues. Soccer is considered to be the national sport, and when the 2010 World Cup coincided with the adoption of the Gambling Act, the online betting industry nabbed a hefty profit of €83 million.

Casino Barrière of Deauville in France

The same applies to major events like Tour de France. Nevertheless, the leadership belongs to horse racing. The pari-mutuel system in France flourishes within more than 8,000 PMU kiosks and bars, which is where 80% of the bets are actually placed.

Online gambling in France strongly depends upon both legislation and the tax system. Around 47% of poker players are frustrated with the official online platform, preferring to use unlicensed websites instead.

So it seems the French government doesn’t see any reason to weaken its grip on online casinos at the moment. Apparently, due to the leading position of online horse racing income, online poker is not considered to be worth supporting.

Yet another reason why French officials ban online casinos is that they are trying to avert problem gambling. Nonetheless, the numbers state that there are 45% of active gamblers among French people, and only 1.3% of them have confessed they have a gambling problem.

To be real, these numbers are extremely low, and there is no evidence that allowing online casinos has the potential to negatively affect the current situation.

Conclusion

The overall situation with gambling in France is not that complicated when it comes to land-based casinos; but if you do decide to find an internet casino to play, there might be some obstacles.

The best way to make some profit both online and offline is to go with sports betting, as French people are extremely fond of this. What is more, you won’t face any problems with the law or high taxes. This is pretty good, as after getting your winning pot, you certainly don’t want to get ripped off.