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How does Poker Qualify in French Gambling Law?
Only games of chance are concerned by the prohibition Act n° 83-620 of 12 July 1983. The French Supreme Court has decided that poker is a game of chance, when played for money. (Cass. crim., 20 avr. 1945: S. 1945, 1, p.126.) It is prohibited to organize this game without an administrative authorization, even if public access to poker rooms is restricted. Under the 30 June 1923 law and the 15 July 1947 Act, poker games may only be held in private "gaming circle" which obtained an authorization from the Home Affairs ministry. (Arrêté du 15 juillet 1947 instruction sur la réglementation des jeux dans les cercles texte partiellement ABROGE: ART. 33 Publié (e) au Journal officiel "Lois et Décrets"du 19 juillet 1947)/
However, a new provision allows casinos to hold poker games and to organize international poker tournaments. (Act (décret) n°2006-1595 du 13 décembre 2006 modifying the Act (décret) n°59-1489 du 22
décembre 1959 et relatif aux casinos) The 1959 Act which governs casino games is being amended to include "stud poker".
The sanctions contained in the Law of 12 July 1983 are heavy. Infringements to this law are punished with three years of prison and 45.000 euros fines. Those sanctions are increased to seven years of prison and to 100.000 Euros fines, when infringements are committed in organized group. (The advertising of an unauthorized game of chance is also punished by the rules governing criminal complicity.) Two main criteria, also used for other games of chance, are used by the courts to determine the limits of the 1983 Law: the mathematical criterion and the criterion of social risk for players.
Mathematical Criterion and Poker
Games of chance are those where chance alone decides and where the physical or intellectual capacities of the player do not intervene. Equally there is no ambiguity about games where chance does not play any role (chess for example). In this case, even if it is played for money, the French legal doctrine deems that this game is not a "game of chance". (D. Veaux, S. Durand, Contrats en matière de jeux.-jeux d'argent, JurisClasseur Contrats - Distribution Fasc. 3320, spéc. n°11.)
Poker is a game which mixes chance and skill. In this type of situation the French Supreme court qualified games of chance, those where chance prevails over skill. (First case of the French supreme court: Cass. Crim. 5 janv. 1877.) The principal criterion used by court is "mathematical". This criterion determines if chance or skill precedes, in a mathematical way. That supposes a thorough examination of the rules of the game and an analysis of the theory of probability. If it is demonstrated before a court that for Poker, skill prevails over chance, the court could conclude that it is a first step to exclude poker from the field of the law governing games of chance, and avoid its sanctions.
Criterion of the Social Risk for the Player
The criterion of the social risk for the player is a second criterion to assess in order to determine whether in a game skill prevails over chance. The existence of a stake is central in this second criterion. It takes into account the social consequences of the game and the losses for the players. The relevant case law of 8 November 1956 qualified a special game, where chance do not prevail on skill, as « game of chance » because it involved "considerable stakes" in a usual way. (French supreme court (criminal section), Cass. Crim. 8 nov. 1956: Bull. Crim., n°727. "Attendu que pour déclarer les demandeurs coupables d'avoir tenu une maison de jeux de hasard, l'arrêt attaqué énonce que, dans le débit de boissons géré par la femme Mounigan, étaient habituellement pratiqués des jeux d'argent comportant une part de hasard ; que Formose, concubin de la tenancière, faisait office de banquier ; que ces jeux se renouvelaient fréquemment, en particulier les jours de paie des dockers ; que les mises étaient relativement considérables et que certains joueurs allaient jusqu'à perdre en une seule soirée, quarante ou cinquante mille francs ;")
The legal French doctrine deems that a game where the stake is very low and only practiced as a simple distraction is not a game of chance. (P. Decheix, Jeux, Loteries et paris, Jurisclasseur Pénal annexes, Fasc. 10, spéc. n°45.) If the stakes are low, there are no negative social consequences for the players. On the other hand if stakes are high, the game becomes a game of chance. (French supreme court (criminal section), Cass. Crim. 8 nov. 1956: Bull. Crim., n°727.)
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