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Justin Anastasi, CEO, VentureMax Group

Graeme Savill, senior key account manager, Gaming Corps

Giorgi Tsutskiridze , CCO, SPRIBE

Dee Maher, chief executive officer, La Royale Gaming Investments

NEXT: It’s been nearly two years since Malta was removed from the Financial Action Task Force grey list. In your view, what impact did the FATF listing have on the development of Malta’s iGaming sector? And how has this changed since being removed from the grey list?

Justin Anastasi: The grey listing was obviously a reality check for Malta.  But at the same time, sometimes we have to go through situations like this in order to come out better for them.

Being grey listed forced the country to look at its financial sector issues seriously.  So what’s happened now, since we’ve come off the list, is that there’s a realisation of how we must have better standards and controls. 

As a result, the gaming industry has had to mature as part of this. It’s had to adapt and focus on those same controls, to support the local regulatory framework, as well as the MGA and the FIAU – all the bodies which ensure the industry complies with those expectations.

That means the Maltese authorities have a stricter approach to the gaming industry, given that it can be a vehicle for different financial crimes. But the iGaming industry in Malta is better for having this closer scrutiny and raising of standards. 

Graeme Savill: It was, of course, disappointing to see Malta added to the Financial Action Task Force in 2021 which put the country under increased scrutiny by international assessors and bodies. 

The development for the iGaming sector resulted in enhanced due-diligence, anti-money laundering and other significant procedure reforms. However, these were widely welcomed, and ultimately will be beneficial for the sustainability of the industry and the credibility of the Malta jurisdiction in the long run. 

The time on the grey-list was short and it was clear that Malta responded quickly and robustly to the shortcomings which was well received by those involved in the igaming sector.

Giorgi Tsutskiridze: Being on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list was quite the shake-up for Malta’s iGaming sector. It raised a number of serious questions about the market’s regulatory oversight and financial transparency, which might have caused some potential businesses and investors think twice about whether Malta was the market for them. However, the listing did  also push us to tighten up our regulatory practices and enhance compliance measures.

Since Malta was removed from the grey list, there’s been a noticeable bounce-back. We’ve seen that the confidence from international operators and investors has returned, and the market now seems like a more desirable jurisdiction for expansion and development. As an industry, iGaming has shown resilience and a renewed dedication to high compliance standards, which has really helped improve our global standing.

Dee Maher: The impact of grey listing was, undoubtedly, negatively felt in Malta, with the island’s international reputation hit especially hard. However, the speed at which the government worked to become delisted was indeed an impressive feat for a country of its size. Inevitably, Malta’s grey listing has forced regulators to become more active, resulting in an increased number of audits imposed on the gaming sector in particular.

Compliance departments have had to become more savvy in ensuring that audits are well organised and do not disrupt the business too much. As we all know, compliance and audits take a lot of time and extensive planning, and companies have to consider whether the Maltese licence and the increased costs of compliance are worth it, considering the regulatory framework across their portfolio of other licences.

NEXT: How do you anticipate Malta’s regulatory framework evolving in response to global trends such as heightened scrutiny on responsible gaming practices, emerging technologies like blockchain and AI, and shifting consumer preferences?

Justin Anastasi: For the most part, Malta hasn’t really ever just responded to evolving global trends, because when it comes to gaming, Malta has led the way. It’s responded to the evolving dynamics as they arise, but for the most part, it has always gone ahead of the trend when it comes to responsible gaming, compliance, risk, etc.

I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of change from Malta because it has already evolved its regime to be quite a strict one already.

Companies operating with a Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) licence can expect to go through the highest possible level of scrutiny, to try and ensure the propriety of those businesses that come here. Obviously, making sure companies uphold their responsibilities towards their employees, players and community is a good thing. 

The MGA has had to become more mature as time has gone on. But for the most part, it’s always been ahead of the trend of the main issues facing the iGaming industry. 

Graeme Savill: The world and technology are both evolving at an incredible pace, and with that, have come shifts in consumer behaviour which have changed the way we interact with players. The MGA has historically shown that it is excellent at developing and adapting to technological changes since its inception in 2001.

Blockchain and artificial intelligence have both been key topics of focus and consideration in Malta for many years already and I believe that, as a market, Malta is already ahead of the curve in how these technologies can impact the iGaming sector in a range of different areas – including security and responsible gaming practices. 

The Maltese gaming industry is resilient and has underlined its ability to remain flexible and adapt to change through the very close collaboration with many long-standing operators and suppliers on the island.

Giorgi Tsutskiridze: As we move forward, Malta’s regulatory landscape is definitely going to keep evolving, especially when it comes to player protection measures.

I can see the Maltese regulators introducing tougher measures to protect players, such as more stringent age verification checks as well as additional support for those affected by problem gambling. We’re also likely to see more companies continue to embrace emerging technologies such as blockchain and AI, which can make games more secure and the overall user experience much more streamlined, while also keeping up with what players want. Adapting to these tech trends will help us stay efficient and relevant.

Dee Maher: Considering how well Malta is viewed in terms of technological expertise, it is no surprise to learn that Malta has set up a National AI Strategy to maximise the benefits of AI and blockchain upon the local and global economy. The better use of data and smart contracts can enable the authorities to rethink and implement measures to tackle logistics, tourism, customer services and education. 

NEXT: With new iGaming jurisdictions introducing gambling legislation and vying for market share, how can Malta maintain its competitive edge as a global hub for iGaming?

Justin Anastasi: Malta is now a place where established gaming companies can call home. The MGA is quickly becoming a place that is a reputable name in the gaming industry, and it requires strict checks and balances for those businesses here.

This approach is actually much better for our country and the local gaming industry because other countries and licensing regimes do expose themselves more to new entrants, and there are risks involved in doing so.

So, given that Malta’s iGaming industry has evolved and continues to mature, this approach of being a strictly controlled licence is one we can still benefit from. However, as a result of these controls, Malta is probably not best positioned to attract new iGaming companies due to the strict nature of the current licensing requirements.

The local gaming industry needs some adjustments to improve how it appeals to new faces and how it helps facilitate their smooth transition into becoming an MGA licence holder.

Graeme Savill: A Malta gaming licence is still regarded very highly, and ranks as one of the most desirable licences to hold despite the number of other markets introducing regulated gambling frameworks.

The credibility, experience and best-practice created by the MGA has resulted in a continually strong number of licence applications for B2C Gambling Service Licences and for the B2B Critical Supply Licences. The Maltese government remains consistent in its support for the gaming industry, which is a critical factor for the long-term sustainability of the industry in Malta.

Furthermore, the strong regulatory framework and an economic environment, together with the necessary human resources and operational infrastructures, will continue to see Malta thrive as a jurisdiction in the iGaming world.

Giorgi Tsutskiridze: To keep our edge as a top iGaming hub, even as new players enter the field, Malta needs to keep innovating and adapting. We need to maintain a transparent regulatory framework that is both fair and adaptable to advances in technology.

Offering perks such as tax benefits or backing tech startups could also encourage more businesses to apply for an MGA licence. Plus, having a strong educational system to keep supplying skilled pros in iGaming and tech will be key. Let’s not forget about fostering a collaborative atmosphere where businesses can easily team up both locally and internationally. That’s how Malta will continue to lead in the iGaming world.

Dee Maher: Malta’s stable political and financial regime, robust regulatory framework, corporate taxation and active regulatory oversight mean that holding a Malta international licence is still a good bet. With an agile and experienced work force, finding talent is relatively easy as well. 

However, it would suit the MGA well to work towards a more efficient and agile process when companies are applying for a licence. Collaboration between other regulatory authorities would be welcomed when considering adherence to compliance in other jurisdictions, leading to a faster decision-making process. Malta should also be considering approving new technology and games, encouraging innovation as well as breaking down the regulatory hurdles and costs of obtaining a licence.

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