Malta was one of the first countries to regulate online gambling, with the enactment of the ‘Operation of Betting Offices Regulations’ in February 2000, which allowed companies established in Malta to accept bets via means of distance communications from overseas, and which were regulated by the Gaming Board, which was the land-based casino regulator in Malta at the time.
Malta Gaming Authority History
In September 2002, the Maltese Parliament brought into force a new law, the Lotteries and Other Games Act, which created a new regulator, the Lotteries and Gaming Authority, replacing the Gaming Board. The Lotteries and Gaming Authority became the single authority in Malta responsible for all gambling activity, including land-based casinos and the national lottery. The Lotteries and Other Games Act also provided for the possibility of regulating other gambling sectors.
In April 2004 a new subsidiary legislation under the Lotteries and Other Games Act was created: the Remote Gaming Regulations. The Remote Gaming Regulations provided for the licensing and regulation of all manner of online gambling, including online casinos, sports betting, and peer-to-peer gambling such as poker and betting exchange. The Remote Gaming Regulations also allowed for the licensing and regulation of business-to-business (B2B) operators.
The entry into force of the Remote Gaming Regulations coincided with Malta’s entry into the European Union, making Malta the first EU country to regulate online gambling. Over the years, many European online gambling operators obtained a licence and established an office in Malta to benefit from the freedom to provide services, and the freedom of establishment allowed under EU law. By virtue of the latter principles, gambling organised under a Maltese licence was deemed to be legal anywhere else in the European Union, making the Maltese licence extremely popular with operators. The first operators who acquired a licence in Malta included Unibet, Tipico, Bet-at-Home, and Zeturf.
Over the years, through new laws in the other EU Member States, as well as decisions of the Courts of Justice of the European Union, the MGA’s licence status as an EU licence significantly diminished.
In 2015, the Lotteries and Gaming Authority was rebranded into the Malta Gaming Authority.
In 2018, the Maltese Parliament enacted a new Gaming Act, dubbed an ‘overhaul’ of Malta’s gambling regulatory regime for all sectors, consolidating and updating all rules and regulations, including strict advertising and responsible gambling requirements, and a more streamlined licensing structure for operators.
All gambling activities occurring in or from Malta are regulated by the Malta Gaming Authority, both online and land-based, including:
- Casino, including slots;
- Live Casino;
- Horse-race betting;
- Esports betting;
- Other forms of betting;
- Betting on Lotteries;
- Betting Exchange;
- Fantasy Sports.
The MGA also licenses B2B suppliers.
The MGA licence is considered to be an international licence, and the Malta Gaming Authority does not impose specific restrictions on the territories in which its licensees operate. A specific gaming tax of 5% is also applicable when players are physically located in Malta.
Although the Malta Gaming Authority does not have a list of prohibited jurisdictions, the MGA does ensure that its operators do not target players in the USA. The MGA also asks operators to have a ‘legally justifiable reason’ why they operate in a specific territory.
The MGA licence has been often used to target other EU or EEA jurisdictions. As most EU/EEA countries have since created their own licensing regimes, MGA-licensed operators often target the few remaining jurisdictions where it is not yet possible to acquire an online gambling licence, such as Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Finland, Norway, Ireland, Luxembourg and Croatia. However, the authorities in such countries do not recognise the MGA licence as being a valid gambling licence. Many MGA-licensed operators also operate in Rest-of-World jurisdictions, although due to the strict rules of an MGA licence, this is harder to achieve than using other international licences such as the ones issued in Curacao or the Isle of Man.
According to the 2020 Annual Report of the Malta Gaming Authority, 328 licences were in force, issued to 323 companies.
The gambling industry generated €924 million Gross Value Added for Malta amounting to circa 8% of the Maltese economy. The gambling industry employed 8,292 persons in Malta, 7,557 of which in the online gambling industry.
Major operators licensed in Malta include Betsson, Bet365, Tipico, PokerStars, LeoVegas, William Hill, 888 and more.
The MGA regularly takes significant enforcement action against its licensees, as well as operators located in Malta who are not licensed.
One of the highest sanctions which the MGA is able to issue is licence cancellation. A full list of licences cancelled by the MGA can be accessed here.
Maltese authorities, also issue significant monetary fines. In January 2020, the MGA fined Blackrock Media Limited €2.34 million for operating without a licence.
Malta’s AML regulator also regularly issues fines to MGA licensees, including the following:
- €386,567 to Online Amusement Solutions Limited
- €500,017 to Rebels Gaming Limited
- €88,937 to Meridian Gaming Limited
- €58,757 to Playbay Malta Limited
- €733,160 to Vivaro Limited
Malta Gaming Authority Scandals
The Malta Gaming Authority has been subject to a number of high profile scandals in recent years:
- The MGA’s Chief Technology Officer was fired in December 2021 due to alleged improper access and use of MGA information.
- Former MGA Chief Executive Officer, Heathcliff Farrugia was charged in March 2021 for allegedly sharing secret information with Yorgen Fenech, the CEO of a casino and also the alleged murderer of high profile Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
- In 2015, the Italian authorities identified various MGA-licensed operators which were allegedly related to the Italian mafia.
- In 2012 and 2013, the LGA were characterised by a high number of publicised instances where licensed entities ran away with players’ money. These include Purple Lounge, PIVGame, Everleaf.