Online gambling companies exit Malta following MGA investigation

The Malta Gaming Authority was in the news again this week following a report in the newspaper Malta Today that five more licensees have departed Malta's shores following a probe into organised crime links by the regulator.

This reportedly resulted in one licence suspension, a licence cancellation and three voluntary terminations of licenses by the licensees.

The licensees involved are all allegedly Italian companies, and the MGA investigation has been ongoing for several weeks following allegations by the Italian police that some organised crime involvement has been associated with Malta online gambling, principally in regard to money laundering (see previous reports).

Malta Today reports that the MGA action follows a new series of arrests by anti-mafia enforcement agencies as part of the Game Over operation in Palermo.

MGA chief Joseph Cushieri told the newspaper that his organisation was open to collaboration with the Italian authorities, and indeed any legitimate enforcement organisation in order to “to iron out any concerns or misunderstandings in order to keep gaming free from crime.”

The newspaper identified the companies involved in the Malta departures as B2875, a bookmaker run by Benedetto “Ninni” Bacchi through the Malta licensee Phoenix Limited. The report notes that Bacchi was the subject of Italy’s Game Over police operation and was arrested along with 30 other individuals in early February under suspicion of controlling a network of 700 illegal betting shops across the country.

Phoenix Online’s licence was suspended and will be revoked following the completion of due process.

The revoked online and retail licence involved the parent company of Leaderbet, LB Casino Ltd. The operator had been named as part of the Italian Game Over investigation and is now licensed in Curacao and continues to run its Italian land-based and online businesses as before.

Operators (Betent Group Ltd), Potterbet (Potter Mrc Ltd) and Giodani (Giodani Limited) have all voluntarily “surrendered” their Malta licences, Malta Today reports, observing that the latest incidents are the fourth in the last 30 months in which Italian organised crime was associated with Malta-licensed gambling operators

The prime minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, recently addressed the recurring gambling problems associated with Italian companies, advising that new initiatives by the MGA are strengthening the due diligence activities via more training and technical and human resources.

He also noted that significant improvements have been possible through increased interaction with international agencies, and betting intelligence gathering on relevant people and companies. He  confirmed that independent audits have been conducted, along with money laundering checks.

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