In 2021, industry eyes have shifted to French market developments, where top legal scholar Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin serves as the first leader of new regulatory agency L’Autorité Nationale des Jeux (ANJ).
Speaking exclusively to SBC, Falque-Pierrotin shares ANJ’s objectives to develop a ‘unified era’ for French gambling by modernising its laws whilst balancing enterprise needs with social responsibility duties… Can the ANJ deliver where other European regulatory agencies have failed?
SBC: Isabelle thanks for this interview. As one of France’s top legal scholars what has drawn you to the challenge of reshaping the country’s national gambling laws?
Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin: I was entrusted with the mission of drafting the foundations of the ANJ in October 2019. During that occasion, I was able to discover the great diversity of the gambling sector and its anchoring in the practices of the French people and in the territories: 228 racecourses, 2,000 casinos, 30,000 FDJ outlets, 13,000 PMU outlets, etc.
This sector is a real boon and it is very interesting to participate in the foundations of developing modern and coherent regulations. I also have a rather entrepreneurial bias: starting a new project, building a team around enlarged competencies, developing new relationships with the operators…All these are exciting challenges.
Moreover, my previous experiences in the field of European regulation of personal data and the Internet have undoubtedly been an asset in understanding this market, whose digitalisation is accelerating very rapidly. The role of the regulator is also to find the right balance between imperatives that may seem irreconcilable (development of the gambling market and protection of players) through ongoing dialogue with stakeholders and pragmatic decision-making. This complex crest line also makes this mission so interesting.
SBC: Forming the ANJ, you have had to merge the responsibilities and duties of three separate departments into one. How difficult has this task been?
IFP: Whereas the ARJEL used to regulate only 11% of the gambling sector in France, the ANJ has the mission to regulates 78%, which represents a market of more than 50 billion euros of wagers. For almost a year, the bases of a unified regulation have been thought out to allow the ANJ, which was launched in June 2020, to have a global gambling policy in France under its control, where it will be able to implement a complete toolbox including preventive, prescriptive, control and even sanction actions on the whole gambling sector.
Indeed, this is a huge change, for the operators and also for the previous departments previously in charge. It will take a bit of time to adjust, new habits and relationships have to be set. But I am optimistic because it is in the interest of the regulation, more coherent and effective. In the interest also of the players, benefiting from a more transversal protection.
SBC: To date where has the French gambling market been underserved, and how does the ANJ plan to solve these issues?
IFP: Prior to the creation of the ANJ in June 2020, the French Gambling Authority was the ARJEL, which was only competent to regulate the online gambling sector. The establishment of the ANJ in place of the ARJEL has led to a broadening of the areas of regulation of gambling in France.
This new regulatory authority was born out of the need to set up a unified and coherent regulation of gambling, with enhanced powers to ensure better protection for players. All operators, whether monopolists or competitors on the French gambling market, all types of authorised gambling (lotteries, horse racing betting, sports betting, poker, etc.) are thus regulated by the same authority, which is now in charge of a very extensive (more than €50 billion in wages) and diversified area of regulation, i.e. an increase from 11% to 78% of the regulated sector.
Nevertheless, some of the prerogatives relating to casinos remain under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior. Moreover, unlike many of its European neighbours, France bans online casino gambling (except poker), which may have the consequence of pushing some players towards illegal websites.
SBC: The ANJ has taken on a very board remit covering land-based and digital verticals. Can one agency really harmonise laws across very distinct verticals?
IFP: Your question is legitimate, the regulatory landscape is very heterogeneous but it cannot prejudice to the players and to the public health issues! Therefore, the basic drive of the creation of ANJ was to create a gambling authority with extended powers, which could adapt its regulation tools to the various situation of gambling, offline and online.
It is the same in many of European countries. For example, we authorize the gambling offer of the monopolies; and we have a possibility to suspend the advertising campaigns of all operators. Various situations of gambling, various regulation tools but a coherent vision.
All of this, for the protection of the players. In fact, the ANJ has decided to place gamblers at the core of his regulation: ANJ PRESS RELEASE, its main objective is indeed to keep gambling within a sustainable perspective of recreational gambling, i.e. as an occasional, moderate and controlled leisure activity. So it is logical that it deals with all aspects of gambling in order to ensure a coherent and sustainable course of action.
SBC: With countries such as the Netherlands and Germany launching their regulated marketplaces and the UK reviewing its generational laws – how closely are you monitoring other jurisdictions developments?
IFP: We don’t monitor other jurisdictions developments, we just work with them: The European cooperation is already well established with regular contacts forged by ARJEL with our counterparts, in particular regarding the fight against sports manipulation.
I would like to strengthen this cooperation, which is for me strategic in the next years on subjects of common interest such as e-sport, the fight against the illegal offer or the role of platforms. I regularly meet with my counterparts online, which is not so convenient but we get to know each other step by step and start works of common interest.
For example, the ANJ and the Kansspelautoriteit have signed a Memorandum of Understanding this last October 23rd. This agreement includes promotion of cross border cooperation and the adoption of common principles guaranteeing a high level of protection for consumers, players and minors.
SBC: From your perspective and experience why have government’s and regulatory agencies found it tough to balance the gambling market in terms of its businesses enterprise and social duties?
IFP: You are right: this is one of the toughest challenges, to find the right balance so that these objectives, which are in many ways antagonistic, can form a coherent whole.
It is all the more difficult that the market is booming and constantly evolving, notably through ever-increasing digitalisation, and it may change the competitive conditions; authorities have to be very reactive in order to be able to respond to these new issues in due time.
We keep in mind that this industry is made of very different worlds, some very fragile, an opening up of one sector can be to the detriment of another, therefore a thorough analysis is systematic before any change is made.
But is strongly believe that our goals can be shared by the operators. I believe that regulation and players protection can be in the interest of the operators also, helping to create a more sustainable market, more confidence from the consumers. So business and social duties can reconcile.
SBC: In your recent publication of objectives, you stated that the ANJ would participate in European harmonisation? Is this a directive that can be achieved when member-state national laws are governed by differing national interests?
IFP: It is not exactly what was stated in ANJ’s Strategic plan: The ANJ wants cooperation between regulators but not harmonisation. Indeed, the ANJ would like to see strengthened cooperation through dialogue and the adoption of a common position on certain subjects while preserving the French legal specificity regarding gambling.
I believe it is the position of all my counterparts. Especially, the ANJ wants to preserve a national line of conduct that corresponds to the French gambling “culture”, which is based on ethics and the practice of safe and controlled gambling. But we can learn from our neighbours and improve our action collectively: best practices, enlarged audience for our messages, better enforcement … the field of cooperation is large. This is why the ANJ wishes to play a leading role in European and international cooperation.
SBC: Finally, what guidance or advice would you offer to external incumbents seeking to join the French regulated market in 2021 and beyond?
IFP: The French choice has always been to set a complete and rather demanding regulation. The new ANJ is in line with this and wants to demonstrate that a sustainable market, based on ethics and consumer protection is good for public health and interests but also for the operators.
I guess our approach is today regaining in attractiveness and image, especially with the best economic results on the approved online market, it demonstrates that a selective and protective offer can be profitable. Also because in many countries, public voices are more and more worried by consequences of an unregulated market in terms of addiction and money laundering. So the pressure on the operators will possibly be reinforced.
We want a good balance of interests. Gambling market must be able to develop and innovate but in a controlled remit… We believe that if all the stakeholders are “playing the game” and respect the rules, while taking into account players protections in their concerns, the French gambling market will go well.