Online gambling is legal in France, but you will have to visit a brick-and-mortar casino to play traditional casino games such as roulette and blackjack. Legislation enacted in 2010 set up the legal framework for online sports betting, horse racing betting and poker.
Noticeably absent from the legislation were provisions for online casino games. The government’s stance is that regular casino games are too addictive to be safely offered online. Brick-and-mortar casinos may offer the full range of gambling games, but online gambling sites are restricted to other forms of betting.
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Not surprisingly, the government has been the target of significant criticism for its heavy-handed approach to regulation and taxation. As noted above, the law is restrictive in which forms of betting may be offered for players. Tax rates are also quite high, which has led to fewer-than-expected international operators from applying for licenses.
France’s ring-fencing policy regarding online poker has also provoked the ire of many a player. Inexplicably, the law prohibits French players from playing in the same poker games as players from other countries. For example, PokerStars has a huge international presence that often results in more than 10,000 players being online simultaneously. However, French players do not have access to this large pool of games due to the ring-fencing policy. Players from France may only be seated at tables with other French players.
Despite these frustrating issues, we must admit the French government does a nice job overseeing the rest of the industry. The system we have now allows us to play at sites that are licensed, regulated and financially stable. To date, the government has issued licenses to sixteen operators to offer a variety of real money betting options for residents.
French Gambling Laws
France has had legal online gambling in some form or another since the mid-2000s. Previously, two government-run monopolies had sole rights to offer certain forms of betting, horse racing and lottery games. These monopolies remained in place for several years, but a ruling from the EU eventually coerced French lawmakers to open the market to international competition.
In 2010, the French Gambling Act was passed and set the stage for today’s current regulation of online gaming. The Act also created the Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne (ARJEL) to serve as our online gaming regulator. All operators seeking a French license must go through ARJEL for a background check, inspection process and licensing.
To date, there are just sixteen licensed French gambling sites. Winamax and PokerStars largely dominate in the online poker space, although there are several other options as well for poker. Most licensees also offer real money sports betting.
ARJEL keeps a current list of licensed operators here that you can check if you’re ever in doubt. Although there are no penalties targeting players who visit unauthorized betting sites, unlicensed operators are unregulated and ARJEL cannot help you if something happens to your money.
One other quick way to determine whether or not any particular gambling site holds a valid license is to check the website’s domain name. Licensees are required by law to host their websites on domains that end in .fr. If the website ends in .com or any other suffix, it does not hold a French license.
Wes Burns co-founded OnlineCasinoSites.com with a mission to help gamblers understand and navigate the regulated online casino market in all countries around the world. Wes is a respected gambling journalist, working in the industry since 2008.