The figurehead of France’s new regulatory era

3 September 2020

The arrival of Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin as president of France’s gambling regulator, the Autorité nationale des jeux, embodies the change the country’s industry has undergone in the past 12 months. She speaks to Jake Pollard about the ANJ’s key projects, further regulatory developments and what the sector can expect in the next 12 months.

Over the past year, France has undergone a period of significant regulatory change.

La Française des jeux is now a private concern, with the state having reduced its stake in the lottery and betting giant to 21%. In January, taxation for online sports and horse racing betting, as well as poker, began to be calculated based on gross revenue rather than turnover.

And L’Autorité de régulation des jeux en ligne (ARJEL), the body previously tasked with overseeing the online market, has been replaced by L’Autorité nationale des jeux (ANJ). While ARJEL was limited to the online channel, its successor’s remit stretches into land-based, covering nearly 80% of the French gambling market.

The reforms have been broadly welcomed by stakeholders in France and provide a roadmap along which the industry can move forward into its second decade of regulation.

And Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, as ANJ's first president, will be tasked with overseeing this reshaping of the market.

Falque-Pierrotin was previously head of the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL), the body that enforces data privacy laws in France. She says her new role at ANJ will see her “place the players at the heart of the regulation” by being as close as possible to the gambling experience through information, service and building on group data and intelligence.

In common with all other markets affected by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown, France’s sports betting sector suffered during the second quarter, although online poker and horse racing recorded encouraging figures. It is against this backdrop that she speaks to iGB, setting out her blueprint for further change in the year to come.
 
As the new president of ANJ, what is your view of the online gaming and betting sector in general?
Online gaming is one sector of the gambling market. Yet one of the missions of the ANJ is to ensure the balanced and fair development of various types of games, in order to avoid any economic destabilisation of the sectors concerned.

Therefore, one of the priorities of the ANJ is to develop a coherent regulation between all these gaming sectors. The balance is all the more complex as the Covid-19 crisis has increased online gambling activity in France.

As you start your mandate, what are your major guidelines and projects for the ANJ and the industry? 
Regarding operators, as a priority the ANJ will explain and assist all operators (offline and online) in their ownership of the new and rather complex legal framework.

We will promptly provide all operators (offline and online) with two essential compliance documents on two key areas: the reference framework on the prevention of gambling addiction and the protection of minors; and on the fight against fraud, money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

We will also be proposing participatory methods that will allow standards to be drawn up as close as possible to sectoral realities, so they are widely accepted and more effective.

Regarding players, one person out of two is a gambler in France and there are an estimated 1.4 million problem gamblers. Preventing excessive or pathological gambling is a public health issue to which I attach the utmost importance. Therefore, I wish to place the players at the heart of the regulation.

For that to be real and effective, I want the ANJ to be as close as possible to the gambling experience and the uses (playing habits) of the players, by articulating its action around three fronts: information, service and capitalisation on the collective intelligence of the players.

Also, the transfer of the management of the file of banned players [self-exclusion register] from the Ministry of Home Affairs to the ANJ starting from September will be an opportunity to make players more in charge of their own gaming activity.

Indeed, the ANJ will propose a new registration process and a real tool for self-protection and control of the game, [one that is] faster and less guilt-ridden. Concretely, a motivational interview with the ANJ staff will be carried out with the players in order to direct them, if necessary, to healthcare professionals.

The Observatoire des Jeux study into French gambling habits shows that fewer people are gambling, but at higher levels, with sports betting highlighted as the vertical in which players are spending increasing amounts. How do you view the findings from the study and what will the ANJ take away from the report?

The study confirms that problem gambling is a permanent problem: since 2014, the population of moderate-risk gamblers is stable. It also shows that the number of excessive gamblers has doubled. So, problematic gambling is an important issue. 

Problem gambling is even more a question of common interest between players, their families and operators. Consequently, the ANJ will use its increased powers to work with:

Players: increasing their awareness of the issues is a top priority for the ANJ. We will strengthen cooperation with player communities and will develop a platform to animate this community so that they can share experiences, advice and support solutions.
 
Players’ families: the ANJ wants to raise awareness among players’ families because the family can play a key role when it comes to educating players about the risks they are taking.
 
Operators: the ANJ must help operators’ compliance efforts and provide them with the tools to secure their business and create trust with the consumers. The ANJ must also, if necessary, make clear that the new legal framework must be respected by all the operators, which implies a credible and appropriate control strategy.

The ANJ now regulates all gambling activities in France: is this beneficial for the industry and if so, how? 
Yes, I strongly believe that regulating all gambling activities is beneficial for the industry, particularly because:
 
- the ANJ now has a global vision of the gambling market, integrating each specificity of each segments; 
- the ANJ must provide value-added services to the operators (such as compliance tools); and
- the ANJ must ensure the respect of the rules in order to maintain a level playing field that benefits the entire gambling industry.
 
This allows us to say that the ANJ supports sustainable growth, which is beneficial for the players and, as a consequence, for the industry.

Considering ARJEL was a pioneer of sorts in online gambling, how will the ANJ look to continue its work with its counterparts in other markets?
European cooperation is already well established, with regular contacts forged by ARJEL with our regulatory counterparts across Europe, in particular regarding European coordination of the fight against sports manipulation.

I would like to strengthen this cooperation, which for me is of strategic importance in the coming years in relation to verticals such as eSports, the fight against illegal operators or the role of platforms.

As European football leagues restart and the 2020-21 Ligue 1 season resumes in France, what is your outlook for the next 12 months?   
Although it is difficult at this stage to have a clear indication concerning the future of football, I can see that practising a sporting activity will be different and difficult in the coming months. We will support operators in this particular situation and it is likely that innovations will be necessary to restart their activity.