France Rejects ARJEL Bid for Player-Pooling Authority

The growth of online poker in France has again received a setback, courtesy of the country’s National Assembly, which for the second time in a three-year span has refused pleas from ARJEL, the nation’s online-gambling regulatory body, for changes allowing the country’s online players to gamble against players in other licensed European jurisdictions.

ARJEL [Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne] and its head, Charles Coppolani, have lobbied for years for the ability to enter such player-pooling compacts, in particular with similarly regulated single-nation markets in eastern Europe who also face declining revenue.  France’s neighbors Italy and Spain, along with soon-to-go-solo Portugal, are among the likeliest targets of any such French hopes for liquidity-sharing deals.

france-eiffelAll that, though, appears unlikely to happen soon.  In what continues to look like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the French National Assembly has again rejected ARJEL’s pleas for legislative changes allowing such player-sharing compacts.  Back in 2013, French anti-online-gambling Assemblyman Razzy Hammadi led the pushback against ARJEL’s liberalization plans.  Instead of acknowledging France’s high taxes, evidenced in both the levy against corporate revenue and the necessitated high table rake, Hammadi pooh-poohed it all by deriding online poker as a passing fad.  As he famously said back in 2013, ““I am against [shared liquidity] as it would turn online poker into an uncontrollable ogre eating one market after the other.  We should simply realize that poker is a little out of fashion today.”

Such beliefs continue to hold sway in France, with the country’s online-poker revenue dwindling as a result.  Just last week, ARJEL released its latest quarterly report, which showed France’s overall online-poker participation continuing its three-years-running downward trend.

A few specifics from that report:

  • Cash-game poker traffic was down 12% in the fourth quarter of 2015, when compared to the same quarter a year earlier (2014);
  • Entire-year totals for cash-game traffic were even worse, down 14% from 2014 to 2015;
  • The growth area, if there was one, was poker-tournament play, where the sector grew by 17% in total revenue.  Within that, sit-‘n-go traffic exhibited the largest growth, spurred by the new lottery-style SNGs promoted by several online operators;
  • Total online-poker revenue, however, declined by 4% year-to-year, meaning that the gain in tourney traffic was more than offset by the loss of cash-game activity;
  • In line with that, the total number of distinct and active user accounts on France’s ten regulated sites also dropped by 2% in 2015.

That only ten rooms remain in France’s highly-regulated and heavily-taxed market is more evidence that the country’s online-poker future is in trouble.  Several operators abandoned the French market in recent months, and of those that remain, only France’s own Winamax brand and international giant PokerStars (owned by Amaya) are reckoned to be profitable.

Interest in supporting ARJEL’s quest for cross-border expansion does appear to be growing, though by the time France’s National Assembly fully grasps online poker’s liquidity needs, it could be a story of too little, too late.  Last year, Emmanuel Macron, France’s Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry, indicated his tacit support for ARJEL’s liberalization push.  Said Macron, “We are currently working on it with ARJEL with a view to the draft digital law. It is in this perspective that we want to treat the subject.”

However, Macron’s and ARJEL’s views aligned with only a small percentage of France’s National Assembly members.  With the bouncing of the latest proposal, it’s clear that not much has changed.


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