The MGA is taking a fresh look at what we have been doing over the last decade, to future-proof the organisation for the next ten years.
Q: Could you give us an overview of Malta as a gaming jurisdiction and the main trends that have influenced the sector over the last few years?
Malta was the first European country to have a body of legislation regulating online gaming. This was a kind of evolution of financial services, given the fiscal incentives we had in the financial services regime, and gaming companies started to set up here to benefit from them. As Malta continued to attract increasing numbers of companies, the authorities recognised that an opportunity existed to provide a regulated environment for the growing industry. In 2004, Malta was the first EU member state to launch remote gaming regulations, establishing a new regulatory framework that offered operators a pan-European online gaming licence. Malta’s developed ICT infrastructure, coupled with our high standards of regulatory policy and education, our skills, English-speaking population, political stability, as well as EU membership, were all critical success factors.
Malta has a reputation for being one of the most tried and tested jurisdictions in the world, and this reputation has served us well for all these years. Now, 11 years down the line, it’s clear that what brought us here will not take us there. We can’t use the same approach going forward as the landscape has changed drastically. To stay ahead of the game, we are in the process of overhauling the iGaming regulations. It is an intensely competitive market and the dynamics have changed with the concept of national authorisations – a move accepted by the European Commission. We are also taking a fresh look at how to future-proof the MGA for the next ten years and cater for new technology and games, as well as changing consumer needs. Key benefits of Malta are its beneficial fiscal regime, pro-business government and its complete ecosystem that supports the entire gaming industry. Additional services to the gaming industry are provided by professionals in other sectors, such as lawyers, accountants and ICT service providers.
The fact that Malta is English speaking across the board is a big asset as is our excellent education system that provides the necessary skills-set for the industry. Gaming has also created a big expat community in Malta, which is a sign of success – Malta is a safe place to live, with the added bonus of a great climate and relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle. We have a good business portfolio, with 270 companies and over 460 active licences. We are in the process of transforming the MGA into a regulatory organisation with an entrepreneurial spirit, instilling a more private-sector mindset with more agility, professionalism and efficiency. We are inspecting all areas within the authority – research, IT infrastructure, business intelligence, automation, intelligence tools – and creating a channel to consult and communicate with operators and players, publish consultation documents to get a reaction from the industry, and build our know-how to raise the quality of our decision-making. The MGA is also hiring fresh talent and investing more in training. Our aim is to have a stronger physical and online presence.
Q: What new initiatives is the MGA working on?
We are working to create a complete gaming ecosystem and have recently rebranded the entire organisation. One of the major changes will be the overhaul of the regulatory framework. We have also launched GamingMalta, which is the promotional body for the gaming industry, and are working on the knowledge development aspect, by launching the Gaming Academy in 2015. These two initiatives will add significant value to the Malta licence. We are strengthening our position as Europe’s top gaming jurisdiction and placing strong focus on enhancing consumer protection.
Q: How are you developing the regulation side of things at the MGA?
Our vision is to be the top regulator in the world when it comes to remote gaming. We’ve had that pole position before, and we want it again. Over the years, we’ve lost some of that edge with other jurisdictions coming onto the scene and our model has been copied nicely. However, imitation is the best form of flattery. Today, our key priority is to ensure we have a regulatory framework in place that incentivises innovation in the industry, enables us to start licensing other forms of gaming, and raises the standards of our service providers. The MGA wants to bring in a better concept of certification for service providers to allow more products to be launched so that the market can grow and develop. We’re looking to strengthen our compliance and due diligence processes and increase the powers of the MGA, so that we’ll have more teeth when it comes to enforcement, as we must protect and foster a healthy industry. The Key Officials will assume more ownership of the responsibilities they are taking on and will not be allowed to resign in the case where there is a suspension of a licence and the MGA is taking enforcement action. We are adopting a risk based approach and also upgrading our call centre to be able to tackle any potential problems from the get-go, rather than allowing escalation.
Q: What do you see as your current top priority?
We want to excel in consumer protection, as this can be Malta’s strong point and a force for leading the way globally. Malta must be known for something unique and special, not just because it’s sunny or because there are a lot of operators based here. The aim is to make the name Malta Gaming Authority synonymous with consumer protection.
Q: How do you see the gaming industry developing and what markets are you targeting?
I don’t want to see Malta develop only in terms of licences – the fact that the industry grew by 25% in 2014 is great – but the focus should be on quality rather than quantity. My vision is to grow our portfolio, keep opening up new markets and promote Malta as a top gaming jurisdiction. But we can also provide new services that are currently not provided in other jurisdictions – Malta can be a disaster recovery site, or a base for game development, research and development, as well as an area for back office operations. The big growth markets on the MGA agenda are South America and China, with whom we already have good relations. Digital games are popular in Asia and could be localised. Malta can be special in the sense that it could facilitate access to these markets. However, it won’t be easy because China is a closed market – gambling is illegal, but digital games of skill are legal. For example, poker is considered a game of skill in Asia. In Europe there are a number of challenges, with various member states imposing a requirement on operators to obtain their national licence, before they can provide gaming services in their country. Point of Consumption tax and the new VAT directive are creating obstacles for the potential growth of this sector. I would rather see Europe and regulators work together to tackle the unregulated market, where the player is not protected and not enough is being done.
Q: Where would you like to see Malta positioned in the next five to ten years?
I would like to see Malta recognised as being the true centre of excellence in the global gaming industry. We want operators and players to see Malta as the best location to be based for both our excellent regulatory framework and for the expertise we have created to support the growth of a vibrant industry.
This article can also be found on the Gaming Malta 2015 publication.