France is the latest European country to open its doors to the world of online gambling. The change became official on April 6, when the French National Assembly voted to liberalize the country’s internet gambling industry. The bill was rushed through in hopes of legalizing internet betting in France in time for the start of the World Cup in June – this brief timeline meant dismissing all leftist opposition offhand, without even considering arguments against the move.
Another driving force behind the decision was the EU. In fact, France was all but forced to legalize and regulate online gambling. Old french gambling laws allowed two groups – Française des Jeux and the PMU – to hold a monopoly over all gambling in the country. This monopoly was in violation of EU free trade laws, which promote free competition across all member states. Strong pressure from the EU obliged France to relax its state-sanctioned hold over the country’s gambling industry, and to open up to foreign operators.
So far, more than 50 foreign groups have applied to the Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne (ARJEL) for a license to operate an online gambling site in France. These annual licenses are renewable for five years. Interestingly, the new gambling regulations do not allow ARJEL to grant an internet gambling license to any group that is headquartered in a region listed by international bodies as a “tax haven”.
Even more significant is the new rule that promises to punish any unlicensed gambling operators who target French players with three years’ imprisonment and fines upwards of €90,000. An even heftier fine of €100,000 is to be imposed on any unlicensed operators who advertise in France without official permission. How these rules will be legally enforced, however, remains to be seen.