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Close-up on poker regime in France

November 25, 2008 2008

Poker status in France has been ambiguous for a long time but luckily for operators the future looks brighter everyday.

Legal framework

French courts distinguish between games of skill and games of chance. The prohibition is focused on games of chance. There are two primary pieces of legislation in this area: one on lotteries and the other one, on games of chance . The 1836 Act prohibits lotteries while the 1983 Act is focused on games of chance. It is not always easy to determine the precise field of each law but French courts take the view that poker is covered by the 1983 Act. As elsewhere in the world, whether poker is game of skill rather than chance is a hot topic.

Poker is usually considered as a game of chance by courts. The question whether skill prevails over chance in games of poker is currently much discussed. But even if a judge were to endorse the conclusions of a mathematical study proving that skill prevails on chance, it is not obvious that he or she would conclude that poker is not a game of chance. On the contrary, the Supreme Court has already held that one specific game was indeed a game of chance, despite the fact that in this game skill prevailed over chance. The determining factor was there were significant stakes; accordingly, the game was to be prohibited as a game of chance.

Under French law, the existence of a stake to play is crucial. If there is no stake – for example, in a tournament without real money – the game itself is legal. “Play money” poker is thus acceptable in French law, though according to a 1971 criminal case even a minimum stake of one French franc (€0.15) was held to be sufficient to justify the prohibition of a game. While there is no case law on the subject, a game played without stakes but requiring a minimum amount of money for registration (for example, a tournament) should – in theory at least – be legal.
In 2007, a new Act has been adopted to reinforce the prohibition against unlawful online games of chance, especially against poker. Penalties have been increased: infringements may be punished with penalties going up to three years’ imprisonment and with fines of €45,000. These sanctions are increased to seven years in prison and a fine of €100,000 when the infringements are committed by organised groups. Moreover, the advertisement of forbidden games of chance is a new infringement punished with fines of €30,000 or four times the advertising expenses.

Up until recently, poker could only be organised in very restrictive venues and occasions, but since the European Commission started to examine France’s gambling regime many changes are to happen.

Latest changes

Since December 2006, brick and mortar casinos are entitled to organise poker games in their premises. Prior to that, poker was only permissible – according to the law – in dedicated, state-sanctioned “gaming circles”. The amended 1959 decree, establishes a distinction between games ‘of counterparts’ such as casino stud poker and games ‘of circle’ such as Texas Hold’em. Both though are expressly authorised.”

More changes were yet to come after the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against the French gambling policy, specifically regarding sports betting, and the French supreme also started to question France’s gambling policy.

First, the government decided to suspend all pursuits against EU licensed online operators whilst it was reflecting over a draft bill authorising online gambling. It soon became clear that the scope of the future market opening was going to include online poker.

The first licences should be granted to operators by the end of 2009 or at the beginning of 2010.

Even if this decision to legalise online poker has been welcomed by many operators, French brick and mortar casinos opposed several reservations.Their gross revenue has drastically decreased over the last year and the three main casino groups explain it by several facts. One reason is that while offline casinos are still heavily taxed by the state, online operators are free to exploit the French market without any burden, and this represents an unfair competition. Another reason is the blanket ban on smoking in public places since January 2008, which caused casino attendance to drop (by 15 to 20% since June).

This is why on 19 November; French casino groups have called on the government to help them to through this crisis. They have asked for tax relief until the new gambling regime was in place. In response, Michèle Alliot-Marie, French Home affair secretary, has promised, among other measures, to make it easier for casinos to organise poker tournaments.

Casinos will be able to organise Poker tournaments in other premises than their own, and the threshold of 100 tournaments per year will be removed.

Under the influences of the European Commission, of poker’s popularity and of the recent crisis, poker regime has dramatically changed in France in two years time. Even if one can be hopeful about its evolution in the following months, operators will need to monitor closely the implementation measures that the new regime will reveal.

Source: Inside Poker


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