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Online in Malta

The small island nation situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea looks intent on continuing to enhance its reputation as one of Europe’s top iGaming jurisdictions

Online in Malta

Home to approximately 520,000 people, Malta is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea that is today widely regarded as one of the world’s most safe and secure online gambling jurisdictions.

The country began its journey into the world of licensing iGaming operators and associated software suppliers at the dawn of the new millennium before opting to become a full member of the supranational European Union (EU) in May 2004.

This groundbreaking move meant that online gambling operators and software firms licensed in Malta were initially able to benefit from a process colloquially referred to as “passporting” in order to begin offering their wares to aficionados located in any of the then-25 member states of the EU. This impressive European bloc soon grew to encompass three more nations in Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania while subsequently losing the United Kingdom, and currently boasts a combined adult population estimated to sit north of 390 million.

Through its Malta Gaming Authority regulator, the nation now directly licenses approximately 300 firms to supply a wide range of online gambling services and software to stakeholders across the EU. The iGaming entertainment offered by these companies runs the gamut from online casino, live-dealer and poker games to sports wagering, daily fantasy and peer-to-peer amusements such as the betting exchanges run by organizations like Betfair.

Russell Mifsud serves as the gaming lead for prominent full-service advisory and accountancy firm KPMG Malta. He says that EU membership proved to be a boon for Malta’s iGaming sector despite a number of early roadblocks linked to a range of competition and monopoly concerns from authorities in nations such as Sweden and Germany.

Mifsud says his Valletta-headquartered company liaises with partners from around the world to provide clients with a plethora of insights, strategies and audit activities to best navigate the risks and take advantage of the opportunities in the online gambling ecosystem.

“The ability to utilize this passporting system coupled with a friendlier tax regime began attracting a large number of iGaming operators to the shores of Malta,” Mifsud says. “Malta joined the EU in 2004, but before this saw an opportunity to begin regulating online gambling.

“Malta is a little island that largely depends on imports, so it has historically been required to be forward-looking and punch above its weight. Its move into iGaming was a smart way of leveraging its position, and the industry today accounts for approximately 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.”

Mifsud asserts that Malta is nowadays widely regarded as the “iGaming capital of Europe,” with the nation’s Malta Gaming Authority being seen as the gold standard when it comes to regulators in a growing transnational dot-com club that additionally embraces the likes of Gibraltar and the Isle of Man.

He goes on to stress that the authority has remained attractive to online gambling entities looking to provide business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) services across Europe owing to its concentration on diligent rules that encompass preeminent anti-money laundering (AML), know-your-customer (KYC) and responsible gambling processes alongside fresh voluntary environmental, social and governance (ESG) procedures.

“The parameters have evolved significantly over the past two decades because the industry has similarly advanced,” Mifsud says. “The iGaming industry has become really complex to navigate primarily because there is little harmonization in terms of having a unified system across the world.

“You see this in Europe with nations coming up with their own particular frameworks while the United States treats all of its own states as almost separate countries with their own individual policies, requirements, measures and channelization goals. Nevertheless, Malta is a very attractive jurisdiction because it has the largest number of licensed operators in Europe and sits within the EU, which has allowed it to forge a flourishing ecosystem that can support the industry from a 360-degree perspective.”

Overcoming Challenges

Richard Schuetz, owner of gaming and regulatory consulting enterprise Schuetz LLC, describes Malta as an “incredibly beautiful” place with a “most friendly” population. The former executive director of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission from 2015 to 2017 also championed the reputation of the Malta Gaming Authority following a period in which it was challenged by circumstances that would test any institution.

“From my observations, the Malta Gaming Authority has worked diligently to get beyond these challenges and strive to establish a culture of leadership, integrity and innovation on the world’s gaming regulatory stage,” Schuetz says.

“The regulator has also been a leader in the introduction of distributive ledger technologies as a regulatory tool. Often regulatory agencies introduce friction that hinders the commercial adoption of innovations, but this effort will look to minimize such hurdles and create an ideal environment abreast of advancements and not antagonistic towards innovation.”

Schuetz, whose career also included a four-year stint with the California Gambling Control Commission, says the iGaming scene in Malta is “appearing well on its way toward achieving the desired gold standard status.” He maintains this comes as the Malta Gaming Authority is continually working to stay abreast of the latest player protection research and insights while remaining on top of the newest developments so as to build a viable and sustainable future for the industry.

“What is important to understand about the regulator is that its approach in these areas is a continuously evolving process,” Schuetz says. “One of the Malta Gaming Authority’s more interesting endeavors has been with the program focused on developing a voluntary ESG code of good practice for the remote gaming sector.

“This is a cutting-edge effort designed to ensure all players in the Malta gaming ecosystem are aware of the importance of developing sustainable business and operating models. I would anticipate this program will go on to become the standard adopted throughout much of the regulated gaming world.”

The White Label Route

Another alluring aspect of Malta for online gambling enterprises is that it gives companies holding local B2C certifications the right to extend their platforms to third parties via “white label” agreements.

This capacity helps to streamline established operational regulatory and compliance parameters while allowing such affiliated entities to launch iGaming domains of their own relatively quickly via the use of their associate’s master license. This ability moreover permits newbies to tangibly test their attendant business and marketing plans without having to fork out the large investment needed to establish and run a stand-alone remote gaming venture of their own.

Under this white-label model, fledgling iGaming operators agree to pay an initial integration/commitment fee in addition to minimum regular charges or royalties that could run to as high as 20 percent of their associated gross gaming revenues (GGR). This sees their offering become an extension of their larger partner’s platform while placing the onus for all regulatory compliance squarely at the feet of the ultimate license holder to leave the client primarily responsible for marketing and promotional activities.

“There is obviously an element of risk for the license holder, and they need to make sure that prospective white-label partners are reputable and would operate or market their services within acceptable parameters,” says Mifsud.

“This is because they could be heavily fined by the Malta Gaming Authority or any other gambling regulator from which they may hold a license where they have a similar setup within. They could furthermore have their iGaming license suspended or even revoked should any of these partners fall foul of the licensee’s compliance obligations.”

Mifsud explains that the white-label route to market has often proven to be particularly attractive to smaller entities seeking to complement their existing marketing or affiliate activities via the launch of a Malta-licensed online gambling service. He concedes that this group is augmented by sufficiently resourced parties that have every intention of obtaining a license of their own but want to first dip their toes into the scene to speedily validate their proof of concept without undergoing a significant investment at the beginning.

“The white-label model in Malta also allows larger groups interested in getting involved in the iGaming sphere to see the numbers and determine whether their ideas or assumed competitive advantage will work,” Mifsud says. “This is especially significant for entities situated in new jurisdictions that may be looking to regulate the online gambling space. The opportunity to work with a white-label provider allows such parties, who may sit in adjacent industries such as telecoms, to test their concepts slowly without having to go toe-to-toe with industry giants at a potential cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The head of legal and enforcement for the Malta Gaming Authority, James Baldacchino, says his organization currently licenses 196 entities to offer B2C online gambling services. He says the current regime obliges any outsourced service provider not holding one of its certifications to conduct operations “as if they were bound by the same regulatory instruments as the ultimate licensee.”

“Firms operating under white-label arrangements are considered by law to be acting for and on behalf of Malta Gaming Authority-licensed entities with the onus being placed on the licensees to ensure that any services offered are done so in line with the regulatory framework,” Baldacchino says.

“Therefore, it is these licensees who are responsible for the actions of their white-label partners where the certification issued by the Malta Gaming Authority is concerned. In those instances where the services provided by an outsourcing entity are licensable in nature, such parties need to apply for their own licenses in order to deliver such services.”

Baldacchino says Malta was one of the first jurisdictions within the EU to implement an iGaming regulatory framework, and has since instigated several “tweaks” to ensure that such activities remain free from crime and are being offered in a safe, fair and transparent manner. He goes on to affirm that these changes have also encompassed measures to make sure minors and other vulnerable persons are adequately safeguarded.

“Gaming regulation has allowed operators to provide their gaming services to end users in a safe and regulated space, which caters to player protection and anti-money laundering measures,” Baldacchino says. “Such regulatory measures are simply not available to end users whenever they engage with unregulated entities in the black market. Consequently, third parties providing non-licensable services under our regulatory framework in line with the requirements of the law are allowed to operate in a responsible and reasoned manner.”

Full-Service Providers

Established in 2016 as part of Soft2Bet Group, Maltix Limited is just one of the many ventures to hold a license for the provision of B2C online gambling services from the Malta Gaming Authority.

This firm is responsible for a number of domains including ZulaBet.com, CampoBet.com and MalinaCasino.com, and more recently shifted focus to additionally begin supplying a full-service B2B iGaming platform complete with a built-in bonus engine, marketing services and cutting-edge gamification and management software alongside localization and risk management advances.

Gilad Naim, chief operating officer for Soft2Bet Group, describes a license from the Malta Gaming Authority as “crucial,” and essential for any reputable iGaming business. Naim additionally forecasts that Malta is poised to maintain this prominent position in the future while cautiously advising the regulator to take steps to secure its licensing framework possibly through further cooperation agreements, so as to ensure the practical territorial scope does not decrease or slow down.

“The Malta Gaming Authority offers the most prominent ‘dot-com’ license in Europe despite the increasing stringency of national regulations to somewhat reduce the territories in which such a certification can be utilized,” Naim says. “Nevertheless, the well-established regulatory framework, modern infrastructure and supportive business environment have attracted numerous high-profile operators and service providers to Malta while the nation’s status as a member of the EU has also been instrumental in drawing businesses to the island.”