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Malta PM defends gambling regulator from media reports

TAGs: joseph muscat, Malta, malta gaming authority

malta-gaming-authority-prime-ministerMalta’s prime minister insists that the local gaming regulator is doing a good job monitoring its licensees, despite media reports to the contrary.

Late last week, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was queried in parliament regarding the recent wave of bad publicity involving the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) and some of its Italian-facing online gambling licensees.

Muscat (pictured) was responding to a list of questions submitted by Partit Demokratiku MP Godfrey Farrugia, who wanted to know why the MGA only seemed to act against Italian licensees after the Italian police launched waves of arrests. Case in point: February’s bust of ‘betting king’ Benedetto Bacchi, which led the MGA to suspend the license of Bacchi’s Phoenix International Ltd one day later.

Farrugia asked Muscat to explain “what failed” in the current monitoring policies that allowed Phoenix to obtain and maintain its MGA license, and whether these monitoring policies had changed following Bacchi’s arrest.

Muscat replied that the MGA had “strengthened the office for the verification of online gaming operators, both from the point of view of financial resources and from the point of view of personnel.” Muscat said the MGA was now employing the services of international agencies to help vet both companies and individuals, while also improving monitoring of anti-money laundering protocols.

Farrugia also asked why a former MGA information technology staffer who alleged irregularities and lack of enforcement by the MGA had been denied whistleblower status. Muscat claimed the alleged irregularities had been investigated by the MGA’s internal independent auditor and were deemed to be “unfounded.”

Farrugia wasn’t satisfied with this response, telling The Shift News that “there should have been an external independent investigation” into the allegations. Farrugia also expressed frustration with the fact that the MGA only releases news of sanctions and fines against licensees while declining to publish the results of its risk assessments.

Bacchi’s arrest was the latest in a series of police actions involving the MGA’s Italian licensees, including the 2015 bust of a major illegal gambling operation linked to Betuniq. Just weeks prior to Bacchi’s arrest, Italy’s anti-mafia commission complained that it wasn’t getting enough assistance from the MGA in combating illegality.

Following Bacchi’s arrest, the MGA announced a detailed probe of all its Italian-based licensees, as well as the launch of a new anti-money laundering unit. Last week, the MGA announced that its longtime executive chairman Joseph Cuschhieri was leaving to head up the Malta Financial Services Authority.

Meanwhile, the MGA announced last Friday that it had “no connection” with a trio of Turkey-facing online gambling sites: eurobahis.net, eurobahis.com and bahistream.org. While the sites prominently display the MGA logo, the MGA wants customers to know that such claims of association “are false and misleading.”

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