Malta’s gambling regulator is conducting a review of its Italian online licensees, following that country’s latest anti-Mafia police action targeting illegal gambling operations.
Last week, Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) executive chairman Joseph Cuschieri (pictured) told Italian gaming news outlet Agimeg that he wanted to “start a collaboration” with Italy’s Anti-Mafia Commission and any other authority that “needs to know the activity of Italian gaming operators in Malta.”
Cuschieri’s comments came one week after the MGA suspended the license of Phoenix International Ltd, which operated multiple gambling sites linked to Italy’s ‘betting king’ Benedetto Bacchi, who was arrested in an Italian police anti-Mafia action dubbed Game Over.
Italian authorities alleged that Bacchi operated a network of data transmission centers (CTDs) – essentially betting shops with terminals linked to Malta-based sites – that circumvented Italian gaming authorities to avoid paying local taxes.
Game Over was the latest in a series of Malta-linked Italian crackdowns in the past couple years, and it followed a public warning from Palermo’s anti-Mafia prosecutor that local Mafia groups were planning to shift their operations to Malta, which they reportedly viewed as “a little paradise.”
Cuschieri said last week that it was regrettable that “the press and the Italian public opinion have a suspicious attitude towards our gaming operators.” Cuschieri said the MGA had “very serious and transparent rules” but lacked “the investigation tools that the police and the judiciary have.” Nonetheless, Cuschieri said the MGA had “further intensified checks against Italian companies”
On Monday, GamblingCompliance reported that the MGA’s probe into its Italian licensees was only the first stage in a concerted crackdown intended to shore up the MGA’s reputation. While Italian firms make up less than 5% of MGA licensees, an unidentified Malta official said the MGA was having to face “public scandals founded on the connection between Italian entrepreneurs and the Mafia.”
The unnamed official went on to say that the MGA wouldn’t rule out cancelling licenses “if in our investigation we discover any business not provided by the license.”
The MGA’s concern is well-founded, given that the Malta-based gaming industry accounted for over 12% of the island’s gross domestic product in the first half of 2017.