Malta Reconsiders Laws Around Illegal Sports Betting

Posted on: August 24, 2023, 08:13h. 

Last updated on: August 24, 2023, 01:17h.

The Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) is considering joining the Council of Europe’s Macolin Convention. The move is a complete about-face from its recent position.

A view of Malta and Grand Harbour
A view of Malta and Grand Harbour. The Malta Gaming Authority might reconsider its approach to overseeing licensed operators. (Image: Pinterest)

The Macolin Convention, which the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) has deliberately sidestepped since 2014, has become the center of a debate following the gaming regulator’s admission. If the MGA decides to join, it would radically alter Malta’s approach to what defines a legal or illegal sportsbook.

There’s no definitive announcement about a pending change or how it might affect the recent approval of Bill 55. That legislation gave gaming operators holding a Malta license a virtual free pass to avoid prosecution from foreign lawsuits.

Under current laws, players from countries where gambling is illegal can access sports betting sites licensed under the MGA. Rather than imposing a legal ban, it’s left to the players to determine whether they are accessing an illegal platform under their country’s laws.

Thosee platforms would be classified as illegal under the terms of the new Macolin Convention. If the MGA joins, the operators would be held responsible for any litigious actions instigated in those users’ countries.

Despite its established opposition to joining the Macolin Convention, gaming advisors continued to prod the Maltese government to change its mind. This became a bigger deal in 2021 when joining was viewed as a way to appease the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The goal at the time was to ensure Malta could avoid the FATF’s grey list. It didn’t work, though the country only stayed on the list for one year.

The MGA seems to be taking seriously the possible adoption of the Macolin Convention. It reportedly hired a law firm, Van Bael & Bellis, to explore the pros and cons of joining.

Bill 55 Controversy

But Bill 55 has been a source of friction since it was introduced. The European Council has spoken out against it, and the European Commission will explore whether it’s legal under European Union (EU) laws.

Germany’s Joint Gaming Authority (GGL, for its German acronym) has also raised concerns, stating that the new laws violate EU regulations. 

Germany and Austria have been at the center of various lawsuits pitting users or states against operators. Recently, they have sought to take their fights directly to Malta to try to find a resolution. Bill 55 would prevent that.

European Countries Aim to Clean Up Sports

The Macolin Convention first appeared in September 2014. Its primary goal was to prevent match-fixing.

The European Council describes it as the “only rule of international law on manipulating sports competitions.” After years of massaging the language, the agreement was ultimately ratified in 2019.

France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and a few other countries took the lead. Since then, a total of 32 European countries have signed on.

Although the compact began as an answer to crooks manipulating sports games, it ultimately went much further. It eventually included a definition of illegal sports betting. This reads, “’ illegal sports betting’ means any sports betting activity whose type or operator is not allowed under the applicable law of the jurisdiction where the consumer is located.”