The Malta Gaming Authority is launching a wide-scale investigation into its Italian licensees for links to organized crime. According to “high-ranking Maltese sources” who spoke to Gambling Compliance this week, this is the first phase of a larger probe into all Italian businesses based in Malta.

enedetto Bacchi arrest prompts Malta Gaming Authority Action

Benedetto Bacchi, owner of Malta-licensed Phoenix International, was arrested last week, accused of sharing profits of his illegal gambling business with the Cosa Nostra. The incident has spurred the Malta Gaming Authority to become proactive rather than reactive. (Image: ANSA/Petyx)

The country has been embarrassed by a string of Malta-licensed companies that have been exposed by Italian police as being Mafia connected. The revelations have been particularly damaging to the reputation of the Malta Gaming Authority, whose job it is to regulate licensees in the major online gambling hub.

“We have problems only with the Italians who are now managing less than 10 licenses out of 200,” said the source. “Italy is becoming highly risky for our reputation, as very often we must face public scandals founded on the connection between Italian entrepreneurs and the Mafia.”

Phoenix in Flames

The most recent of these public scandals occurred just last week when police arrested 31 people across Italy for involvement in an illegal gambling operation with connections to the Sicilian Mafia. Among them was the so-called “King of Betting,” Benedetto Bacchi, who controlled 700 illegal gambling joints throughout Italy. He allegedly shared the €1 million monthly profits directly with the Mafia in Palermo.

Bacchi’s joints employed computer terminals that facilitated gambling on websites that included B2875.com, Bsport24.com and B28sport.com, all of which were owned by his Malta-licensed company, Phoenix International Ltd.

The MGA immediately pulled Phoenix’s license and ordered it to “indefinitely suspend all gaming operations, cease to register new players, suspend all transactions on all websites, including deposits and withdrawals, and submit all data and documentation requested by the authority.”

N’Drangheta Point Man

But Bacchi was the fourth gambling operator with connections to organized crime to be exposed in the past three years – and many are wondering why the regulator, which is required to vet applicants for licenses, is being embarrassed quite so frequently.

The most notorious case occurred in 2015 when the MGA was forced to revoke the licenses of nine online gambling sites, including BetUniq, whose CEO Mario Gennaro was described by prosecutors as the “point man” for the Calabrian Mafia in Malta. Gennaro turned snitch and his testimony is believed to have aided in the arrests of last week.

Online gambling comprises a sizeable sector of the Maltese economy and so its credibility as a regulatory jurisdiction is crucial. But it seems Malta has finally had enough of the Mafia in its midst and the MGA is finally getting proactive rather than reactive.

“The cancellation of a license is always possible because it is a privilege and not a right,” said the Gambling Compliance source. “If in our investigation we discover any business not provided by the license, we are going to revoke it.”