Olga Finkel, Partner and as Deputy Chair of the Malta Chamber of Commerce Remote Gaming Business Section (RGBS), has recently been interviewed by Country Profiler to give an overview for the Gaming Malta Yearbook 2015 of the role of the RGBS and an insight on what keeps operators ticking, as well as developments on regulatory reform, current challenges and why Malta remains an active place in the industry.
“Could you give us an overview of the Malta Chamber of Commerce Remote Gaming Business Section (RGBS)? The RGBS was set up just over a year ago within The Malta Chamber of Commerce, which is the main business body in the country. We felt at the time that the industry’s strategic interests needed to be promoted more widely, and if we wanted to be considered a mainstream business sector we need to have our voice heard on a national level. So when there are issues that the regulator or government wish to consult the industry on, the RGBS will have one strong and unified voice to put the needs and opinions of the industry at the forefront. To have this flow of views and open discussions about what the industry is facing is very important.
What are the themes that your members are asking you to amplify, and what issues are keeping operators up at night? We initially identified five main priority issues. The efficiency and effectiveness of the licensing regime and streamlining the post-licensing process, cloud computing and mobile games, the 4th AML directive, the Danish state cases and the integrity of sports convention. We prepared a number of reports on these issues that we sent to the Ministry and the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA). The MGA has already announced they are going through a regulatory overhaul and quite a lot of our proposals will be incorporated, which is a refreshing approach by a regulator.
What developments would your members like to see in terms of the regulatory reform process?Operators are currently faced with the situation of having to apply for multiple licences, which lends itself to much lengthier processing and certification times. The whole process becomes very repetitive, with no real benefit for the operator or the regulator. Admittedly, the timeline for getting a licence is improving, but it’s more a matter of changing the whole approach to the licensing rather than just the timing. The MGA is now moving from a process-orientated approach to a result/effectoriented approach which is great, because to us it means a change from a bureaucratic approach to a functional approach. It will also make the industry more responsible and responsive.
What are your thoughts on the current international regulatory landscape? A few years ago, Malta thought that it was going to fight for Maltese licensing to be recognised across Europe, which hasn’t happened, and I think it will not happen. We have to be realists rather than optimists or pessimists, because that is the best approach in my view. It’s pretty clear that there will be more and more licensing regimes in Europe, but I’m not sure whether the real reason for these countries wanting their own licensing regimes is to protect players, or to just to collect tax revenue. What is clear is that the operator’s life will become more difficult, expensive, and resource-intensive since the regimes are not harmonised, and it will definitely impact the bottom line. Going forward the focus should be to agree on technical standards, on how certification of games and all processes should be done, and try to make it aligned, because the countries don’t lose anything in terms of compliance and tax revenue by aligning the process, but the business wins.
Given the current challenges do you expect the industry to grow? The industry will still grow, because the raw figures of revenues are still there and I don’t think this will change. However, the landscape will change and there will be more fragmentation in the industry with regard to the regulatory aspect, but more consolidation with regard to the commercial aspect. I hope that the perception of the general public on this business will improve, because I still see a lot of negativity.
Does Malta still offer a compelling story? Even though more countries are emerging with their own licensing regime, I don’t see a slowing down of activity in Malta. There was a time when some operators decided to leave to Gibraltar and other countries, but now we’re seeing them coming back. For operators active in more than one country Malta still makes sense. There are also many countries outside of Europe that are still available and accessible and once you have established your operation here you might as well continue.
What is the outlook for Malta and its licensing regime? I think that the importance of the licence will probably diminish, but the overall impact on Malta and the companies established here will not really slow down, because there are other considerations to take into account apart from the licence. All things considered, it is still good to be based in Malta.”