Joseph Borg, Senior Advisor, speaks to iNTERGAMINGi regarding the overhaul of Malta’s gaming laws.

The path to legislative change is rarely a simple one.  As the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) re-imagines the jurisdiction’s regulatory framework, iNTERGAMINGi talks to one of the Mediterranean island’s Leading legal minds.  A a former chief regulatory officer at the MGA, Joe is well positioned to consider both regulatory and commercial implications of changing legislation.

1. The MGA is in the process of reviewing and revamping the gaming legislation in Malta – why is this necessary?

JB: There’s an English saying that says ‘Do not rock the boat’. In fact many are sceptical of whether there is a need of reviewing the gaming legislation in Malta. However, it is also true that if law is not updated constantly, it easily becomes obsolete, thus weakening the regulatory regime. This in turn creates difficulties for the regulator to properly regulate the market, for operators to be in a position to provide the best possible service to the customers and to customers themselves who would end up less protected and more vulnerable.

Furthermore, when one looks at the land-based legislation, it becomes evident that it requires a substantial overhaul. The law is fragmented into different legal instruments, some of which overlap each other and in some cases there is a conflict between provisions of the various laws. Therefore there is dire need for consistency in the law. Furthermore, it is essential that the law caters for:

  • Increased technology convergence between online and land-based;
  • Technology neutrality that allows industry development while ensuring that the regulator is in a position to regulate effectively, irrespective of technology advances and development of new business models;
  • Non-duplication of controls in order to render processes smother and faster for operators to obtain licences and approvals while ensuring that customers are protected.

2. What changes can we expect to see in the laws dealing with online gaming?

JB: The MGA and the Government both showed commitment to reduce bureaucracy and increase transparency in this overhaul. The industry is therefore expecting to see:

  • A simplified licensing system that allows operators to provide different services under the same licence. Therefore, we are expecting the removal of the distinction between Class 1, Class 2, Class 3 and Class 4 licences and instead a new system will be introduced with a B2C and a B2B licence which would make it much easier and faster for operators to increase more games and services under their respective licences.
  • The legislation should allow the MGA to come up with the most efficient process in the grant of new licences and approval of new products and services.
  • It should cater for platforms and game aggregators.
  • Technical specifications need to be clearer giving a greater certainty to the industry and consultants. However, the structure of the legislation needs to enable the MGA to be able to react in a timely manner in order to cater for new games and business methods.
  • It must be easier for online gaming software providers to provide their services to land-based operators.
  • An appeals process should be introduced in order to avoid costly and lengthy court proceedings in case of disagreement with MGA decisions.

3. Do you envisage a this being a smooth process or will we see disagreement and potential disruption?

JB: No, the process should be a smooth one. The MGA’s interest is to make the regulatory regime less bureaucratic and more transparent. This will surely be well received by operators. On the other hand, the MGA has already announced that it will be proposing to the government adequate transitory provisions granting enough time to operators and the MGA itself to adapt to the new provisions of the law.

4. What implications might there be for existing licence holders?

JB: I do not expect operators to face any implications with the new laws. As stated earlier, I believe that a the vast majority of the provisions that will be implemented in the new law will be advantageous for the industry.

5. …and what about new applicants?

JB: This should be catered for in the transitory provisions. In fact, when prospective applicants seek my advice on whether they should apply for a licence now or wait for the new law, I would always suggest for the operator to apply now. First of all, although the project seems to be at advanced stages, the introduction of new legislation is not just a matter of drafting new laws and publishing them. There are a number of procedures that may delay the process, include political debates in parliament and EU notification procedures. No one, really, has any control on how long these procedures take.

6. What can WH Partners do to help businesses that are or that hope to become part of the Malta i-gaming community?

JB:. We are a Malta-based business law firm with focus and have a global sound reputation for our work in gaming and gambling. This year, we will celebrate 10 years since our inception and with assisting businesses wishing to set up shop in Malta. We can provide everything that a business needs to become part of the Malta i-gaming community. Besides legal services, we also provide corporate services, tax consultancy, accounts, pay-roll services and relocation services. In particular, we are arguably the most experienced law firm in Malta in the gaming practice area and our lawyers are amongst the strongest in the Country, who are well regarded by regulators and clients alike for their thoroughness, efficiency and knowledge of the relevant sectors. Individually, they are highly ranked globally by the foremost independent legal directories in many practice areas, including gaming and gambling, and they are also lecturers in Gaming Law at the University of Malta.

7. Is there anything else you would like to add?

JB: WH Partners also specialises in corporate finance, M&A, taxation, investment funds, fund management and administration, real estate, asset and wealth management, e-commerce, e-payments, telecoms, digital content, privacy and data protection, IPR and yacht registration. Hence, we can also assist any gaming business, as well as highly-ranked individuals in the gaming industry, with these aspects too should the need arise.

The firm itself is also ranked by several of the above mentioned directories and has received numerous acclaimed international awards for its service levels in many of our practice areas. We are also the Malta exclusive member in the International Alliance of Law Firms and in Ally Law.