Who: Winamax SA, and French Casino unions and representative associations (Syndicat des Casinos modernes de France, Syndicat casinos de France, Association des casinos indépendants français, Forges thermal SA)
When: 29 January 2020
Law stated as at: 30 March 2020
The French Supreme Court (in its decision No. 18-22.137 dated 29 January 2020) declared that a live and on-site poker game organised for its consumers by Winamax, a licensed online poker operator, was illicit under the French Internal Security Code (Code de la sécurité intérieure).
Winamax had organised physical poker tournaments for many years, which were open to players registered on its website. Casino professional unions and associations challenged the lawfulness of this tournament in Court.
Organising a lottery/game of chance open to the public is prohibited under French law, except if organised by a casino or an entity licensed by the state to organise physical lotteries. Any tournament will be deemed a prohibited lottery and game of chance if it meets the four following conditions:
- An operation open to the public,
- Which maintains an expectation of gain,
- In part or in total based on luck,
- And for which a financial contribution is required.
In this case, the issue was that of financial contribution, since in order to participate in the tournaments one only had to collect “starting block” tickets which could be obtained free of charge or through “cash games”. However, the Court of Appeal and the French Supreme Court pointed out that these tickets had to be supplemented by loyalty points requiring real financial contributions, so that a financial sacrifice was required.
The activities were therefore illicit under the Internal Security Code – even though the ARJEL (now the Autorité Nationale des Jeux, the National Gaming Authority) had approved Winamax for its online (virtual) poker games.
In addition, Winamax argued that since the operation was targeting consumers, it was in principle lawful as long as the practice was not unfair to consumers. The courts did not agree to such an argument and on the contrary deemed that the rules applicable to gambling were mandatory and applied without prejudice to the provisions relating to unfair commercial practices. The running of the game was therefore deemed unlawful even if not regarded as an unfair practice.
Why this matters:
Operators must ensure that they have the necessary licences to organise games of chance and that the organized games comply with the rules relating to gambling and games of chance.
In addition, even if the operation is intended for consumers, the fact that the operation is not unfair does not imply that it is lawful.