In conversation with with French financial newspaper Les Échos, Charles Coppolani, the new President of French online gaming regulator ARJEL, took a different line than his predecessor in explaining the decline of online poker under the regulatory system introduced in 2010.
It is the first time Coppolani has given an interview since adopting the post.
The “first element” in the decline, he states, is the impact of the European financial crisis. He adds that poker “has difficulty recruiting new players” and suggests that poker is too complicated for a “rather young audience.”
“The fad is over,” he stated. “Basically, the online poker market may be mature.”
Cash game traffic figures over the last two years show that the French market has fallen by around 15% more than the global dot-com market.
A New Way of Thinking
Coppolani’s conclusions are markedly different to those of his predecessor, Jean François Vilotte, who proffered his own opinions in an interview published shortly after his departure.
“We can see a decrease in the number of players in France, but this is due to the fact that big players are either moving out of the country or playing on illegal websites,” he stated at the time.
Vilotte’s solution to poker’s declining property was to allow a greater variety of games, change online gaming taxes, and introduce shared liquidity with other well-regulated national markets.
Shared liquidity is “crucial for poker’s future, in France as anywhere else,” Vilotte explained.
Priority on Player Protection
However, French politicians ultimately voted down a proposal to change the law to allow cross-border shared liquidity.
Instead, Coppolani plans to focus on preventing gambling problems and tackling the non-French licensed operators targeting the market.
“Player protection is an ongoing priority,” was his response when asked what his priorities are as the new head of ARJEL.
He follows up by saying that the “fight against illegality is an endless fight,” and backs up that statement with some big numbers describing the scale of the “gray” market.
The regulated operators will welcome this activity, as they struggle to retain players when the gray market often provides a more attractive proposition given the high taxes—2% of every pot, the equivalent of 37% of gross gaming revenue—in French cash game poker.
Coppolani recognizes the operators’ problems, acknowledging that “the market has not met the expectations of operators.”
However, he points out that regulation has been successful in creating a legal, safe and secure online gaming product and that this was the primary objective of the legislation.
The new President came from the government research organization responsible for collecting data on problem gambling, and he knows how to work in the politically-charged atmosphere of the French senior civil service.
Since French politicians rejected Vilotte’s prescriptions for solving the problem, Coppolani may well have decided that there is no point attempting to pursue a failed strategy.