Having gone through its second full year of regulated operations, the French online gambling market is showing signs of growth, but also areas of serious systemic weakness.
According to the 2012 report released by regulatory authority ARJEL, the entire sector generated stakes of EUR 9.4 billion in 2012, a mere 1% increase from 2011. Even this meager growth is remarkable, however, taking into account that 17 licenses were canceled and only 2 entered into force during the year.
Of the three kinds of online gambling activities which are allowed under French gambling laws, both online poker and sports betting experienced a huge decrease in active licenses (30% and 43% respectively), while horse race betting was the most resilient segment with only one license gone.
Moreover, figures show that this decrease in the number of licenses does not reflect shifting business strategies and profiles, but rather a complete exodus of some operators, whose number also decreased by 37%, from 35 to 22.
At the same time the online gambling industry was driven by internet betting in France, witnessing a 19% increase in stakes from 2011 – undoubtedly boosted by major sporting events like the London Olympics and Euro 2012.
Taken together, these figures could be interpreted to indicate a maturing French market, but industry stakeholders have been voicing some concerns. While a decline in the number of online poker sites in France (with major operators, such as 888 Poker exiting the French market), as well as the weaknesses of the segment have so far been offset by gains in other areas, experts warn that the French online poker market may collapse completely, unless regulations inhibiting adequate international player liquidity are lifted.
ARJEL has acknowledged the gravity of the issue but has made it clear that such steps would require legislative changes, which are not known to happen from one day to the next.