The Malta Independent 22 March 2018, Thursday

New gaming legislation to be tabled in Parliament

Tuesday, 13 March 2018, 16:18 Last update: about 8 days ago

Parliamentary for the Digital Economy Silvio Schembri will tonight table a motion in Parliament for the first reading of a new gaming bill, which will repeal all existing legislation on the matter, replacing it with a singular primary act.

This act will eventually be accompanied by subsidiary legislation covering the main thrusts of gaming regulation together with a set of technical directives and guidelines which are currently under consultation.

"The bill marks a major step in streamlining and encompassing the governance of all gaming services offered in and from Malta and across all channels under the competence of the MGA. The government wants to ensure that the gaming industry continues to be run responsibly, fairly and free from criminal activity, so that the Maltese jurisdiction provides a safe and well regulated environment where the industry can also develop and innovate," Schembri said.

He said that the bill ensures that the authority has the necessary resources and powers to regulate effectively and protect consumers.

The proposed regulatory framework will strengthen the MGA's compliance and enforcement functions to better achieve its regulatory objectives, in line with concurrent developments on anti-money laundering and funding of terrorism obligations, the representatives explained. "It also empowers the MGA to be more agile in its decision-making, decreasing unnecessary regulatory burdens whilst concurrently strengthening supervision and focusing the regulator's efforts on the areas which present a higher risk profile. Other important areas of focus include consumer protection standards, responsible gaming measures, reporting of suspicious sports betting transactions in the fight against the manipulation of sports competitions, and objective-orientated standards to encourage innovation and development."

Recently, media reports read that a number of Italian online betting operators gave up their Maltese licences in the wake of investigations into possible organised crime connection. Questions were raised about this issue.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Digital Economy Silvio Schembri spoke about the strength of Malta's gaming regulator. He said that the Maltese regulator is recognised internationally for its capabilities, and have taken decisions on certain licenses.

He said that if one were to ask him whether next week they would find a problem or not, it would be presumptuous for him answer. "This is an industry where, like any other, there could be operators with good and bad incentives. What is important is for there to be a regulator with the necessary tools to act."

He mentioned that the authority does conduct intelligence gathering through international sources.

The MGA Chairman said that the authority works with local enforcement. "Because it is not mentioned in the media does not mean it doesn't happen."

Recently reports read that two companies had their licences revoked, and that both companies were allegedly found to be using Malta operations to launder money coming through illegal activity in Italy. Regarding the aforementioned situation, the MGA Chairman said that it was the Italian anti-mafia unit - a special unit that works independently from other law enforcement agencies, who conducted those investigations in Italy.

Whenever there was a flake of suspicion, the authority was always "risk averse" he said, and took the necessary measures which needed to be taken.

He mentioned that in these particular cases, the authority moved in a correct manner. He spoke of the need for more international collaboration on organised crime, which he says doesn't occur often. He said that more collaboration between international law enforcement agencies would lead to better tracing of illegalities. He said that organised crime is very sophisticated, utilising mechanisms where people front for others, which increases the complexity to trace. "And so when information ends up on hand you take immediate action"

He said that this past year around 30 licences were suspended or cancelled, not all related to crime, but rather for various reasons.

If the authority feels, at any time, that the fit and properness of a company is compromised, can intervene, he assured.

Recently, this newsroom reported that the MGA was reviewing risk profiles of business models used by Italian licensees following arrests in Italy. The MGA Chairman said there was a focus on Italy due to what was being reported in the Italian media. "This does not mean we aren't doing the same thing on operators coming from other jurisdictions." He said that  surveillance is the authority's job, adding that it is continuous work. He said that risk management today is sophisticated when compared to foreign regulators. He said that before being given a licence, the authority uses international agencies to provide in-depth intelligence on individuals as part of the due diligence. Once ne becomes a licensee, he said, the authority always has the power to suspend a licence at any point in time, and that the company's risk profile is scrutinised on an ongoing basis. The higher the risk, the higher the scrutiny, he said.

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