Although the French online gambling industry experienced a 1% growth in 2012 driven primarily by sports betting, questions about the future of online poker remain.
It is currently authorized under French gambling laws to offer online poker games, being one of the three segments of online gambling, which operators can be licensed for (the other two are sports betting and horse race betting). On the other hand, they are explicitly prohibited from merging their French player pools with those in other countries.
Thus customers who sign up to play online poker in France are not given the opportunity to play against anyone else, but other French players. This leads to a lack of sufficient players at certain times, discouraging the local recreational player from pursuing this hobby more actively.
The lack of sufficient player liquidity combined with high taxes has caused several operators to leave the French market entirely. In fact, around 40% of the operator licenses held were returned or revoked in 2012.
The good news is that ARJEL, the online gambling regulatory body has been relatively quick in listening to industry suggestions concerning the removal of pool merging restrictions. They have also stated that bad regulations are indeed to blame for the online poker market’s decline.
The bad news is that any changes would require new laws. The issue has therefore been referred to lawmakers for further consideration.
The silver lining is, that this is not a specifically French problem, and European countries where it is legal to play online casino games will have to consider regulatory harmonization if the wish to keep the gambling revenues coming in.