France’s igaming market showed little signs of the impact of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in the first quarter of 2020, with L’Autorité de régulation des jeux en ligne (ARJEL) warning that the full impact would be seen in subsequent quarters.
Gross gaming revenue for the three months to 31 March 2020 was up 21.8% year-on-year to €435m, driven by continued growth in sports betting; the recovery of betting on horse racing, and a strong performance from poker.
Poker was the standout performer of the quarter. The vertical, which struggled for years, has been growing slowly since 2017, ARJEL explained.
In Q1 2020, growth accelerated to break a number of records. The monthly revenue total of €98m, was the highest quarterly figure since the French market opened, beating the previous record of €86m, set in Q1 2011.
This represented a 44.1% year-on-year increase, which itself set a new record for the highest quarterly rise in revenue.
Growth in poker was driven largely by lockdown, ARJEL said. For the final two weeks of March, player activity was up more than 180% from the prior year’s period. It was driven largely by tournaments, aided by operators offering players the ability to set up private games between friends, with tournament revenue rising 55.6% to €70m.
Cash games also grew, albeit from a lower base, to €28m, up 21.7%.
Over the quarter the average number of active accounts per week jumped 37.0% to 374,000.
The clearest indication of Covid-19’s impact was seen on sports betting stakes, which declined 4.4% to €1.22bn, after major sporting leagues – including the French domestic leagues – were suspended from 13 March. For March alone, ARJEL said, stakes were down 40%, having risen 11% over January and February.
Amounts wagered on football were particularly affected by the sporting shut-down, falling to €635m for the quarter, though this was mitigated in part by growth in tennis (to €266.2m) and basetball stakes (to €188.3m).
Ligues 1 and 2 were ultimately brought to a premature conclusion on 29 April, and this quarter-on-quarter decline in amounts wagered was the first recorded in nine years.
Despite this, sports betting revenue continued to grow, rising 18.5% to €263m in Q1, a new quarterly record for the vertical that was aided by operator-friendly results, ARJEL said. However, the regulator pointed out that March’s sporting suspensions had weighed heavily on results; GGR had been up 48% year-on-year at the end of February, it noted.
While the average number of player accounts active per week grew 2.3% across the three month period, ARJEL once again noted that this masked a sharp drop-off in March. Following the suspension of major sports, it said, the average number of active accounts per week dropped to 220,000.
For horse race betting, amounts wagered grew 9.9% to €300m in Q1, despite French racing’s suspension from 17 March. After that date, only betting on foreign racing was available, with the Ministry of Agriculture adding a number of new international races to the list of approved betting markets to help operators.
While ARJEL noted that French racing usually accounts for 90% of amounts wagered, it said amounts wagered in Q1 2020 represented the highest three-month total in seven years. Revenue for the vertical was up 10.4% to €74m, suggesting that the pace of growth was accelerating.
However, average weekly active account numbers fell marginally to 153,000. This again masked a steeper decline following the suspension of French racing, ARJEL said, with active account numbers dropping to 126,000 in the final two weeks of the quarter.
While Covid-19 only impacted the final two weeks of Q1, ARJEL said its full effects would be shown in the consolidated results for the second quarter of 2020, ended 30 June, and in subsequent quarters. The country's horse racing resumed from 11 May, with many retail betting outlets now in the process of reopening.