Malta, Europe’s online gaming hub and one of the best-regarded licensing jurisdictions in the world, has been forced to suspend the licenses of three more operators, at least one of which is suspected of ties to the ’Ndrangheta Calabrian organized crime syndicate.
Vincenzo Giuliano, director of Fenplay Ltd, was one of 50 people arrested last week, as Italian police swooped in on gambling companies in Italy and elsewhere demolishing a vast gambling empire allegedly run by the notorious syndicate.
Police hit 1,500 betting shops, 45 Italian companies and 11 foreign firms in the raids, as well as 82 online gambling sites, and seized assets worth €2 billion ($2.2 billion).
Six of the companies targeted were based in Malta, according to a police statement last week, and are accused of laundering large sums of dirty money.
In all, nine Maltese licensees have now been suspended.
In in the wake of the arrests, Uniq Group, Betsolution4U Limited, Uniq Shopping Ltd, Tebaral Holding Ltd, Tebaral Trading Ltd and Fast Run Ltd all had their licenses put on ice pending further investigation, while, this week, along with Fenplay, Soft Bet Limited and Soft Casino Limited, have been banned from operating. .
Failure of Due Diligence
The news has come as an embarrassment to the Malta Gaming Authority, which regulates all licensees of the gaming hub, as the Maltese press demands to know why this apparent failure of due diligence was permitted to happen.
Malta depends upon its status as a trusted online gaming jurisdiction for the health of its economy.
An editorial in the Malta Times this week warned there could be grave consequences of a relaxation of regulatory controls on the island.
“Malta’s new economy industries face major risks of being blacklisted by some mighty jurisdictions like those in the US and the EU unless the local authorities tighten their grip and show they are in control of what gets done by these companies,” it said. “This tightening will hurt the economy as less reputable operators would be weeded out with a loss of jobs and other ancillary economic benefits.
“The reputation of a small island economy can be very fragile,” it continued. “It needs to be protected against abuse by unscrupulous operators who use the advantages that the government and regulators offer to attract new industries.”
Parliamentary Secretary Jose Herrera, however, denied that Malta has let its standards lapse. “On the contrary,” he claimed, “we have tightened our due diligence even more in the last months. However, there will always be the case of some bad apples.”
Italian national Mario Gennaro is accused by Italian police of being the point man for illegal online betting and gambling in Malta on behalf of the ’Ndrangheta.
He appeared in court last week along with six other Italians extradited from Malta.