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Compliance Updates

New Gaming Bill tabled in Maltese Parliament

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Press Release – 13 March 2018 – The Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy & Innovation, Hon. Silvio Schembri announced that a motion has been presented in Parliament for the first reading of a new Gaming Bill which will seek to repeal all the existing legislation and replace it with a singular primary Act of Parliament, together with subsidiary legislation covering horizontally the main thrusts of gaming regulation as well as a series of technical directives and guidelines currently being consulted on by the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) for eventual publication and rollout by the regulator once the Act comes into force.

“This Bill marks a major step in streamlining and encompassing the governance of all gaming services offered in and from Malta and across all channels under the competence of the MGA. The Government wants to ensure that the gaming industry continues to be run responsibly, fairly and free from criminal activity, so that the Maltese jurisdiction provides a safe and well regulated environment where the industry can also develop and innovate”, Hon. Silvio Schembri said.

Through this Bill, Government is ensuring that the MGA has the necessary latitude, resources and powers to regulate effectively the gaming industry and protect consumers, as required, focusing on evidence based methodologies. The Parliamentary Secretary added; “we hope to remove any red tape by increasing efficiency and flexibility for the Regulator, whilst improving the robustness of the current framework and focusing regulation on outcomes”, whilst also adding that the Act elevates the excellent reputation of the Maltese jurisdiction in this sector. Honourable Schembri remarked that thanks to this New Gaming Bill,  the industry will grow by another 4%.

The press conference was also addressed by Joseph Cuschieri, Executive Chairman of the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), who stated: “This is an important milestone and we welcome this major step forward by the Maltese Government. This Bill contains draft proposals which aim to bridge the regulatory gap between various gaming verticals and channels, including new technologies serving as a platform to future proof gaming regulation, whilst ensuring that consumers enjoy a consistent level of protection.”

The proposed regulatory framework will strengthen the MGA’s compliance and enforcement functions to better achieve its regulatory objectives, in line with concurrent developments on anti-money laundering and funding of terrorism obligations. It also empowers the MGA to be more agile in its decision-making, decreasing unnecessary regulatory burdens whilst strengthening supervision and focusing the regulator’s efforts on the areas which present a higher risk profile.

Other important areas of focus include consumer protection standards, responsible gaming measures, reporting of suspicious sports betting transactions in the fight against the manipulation of sports competitions and objective-orientated standards to encourage innovation and development. The motion presented in Parliament is a result of an extensive period of public consultation conducted by the MGA, with various industry stakeholders and the general public, as well as numerous technical studies, economic and financial impact assessments. The consultation was launched in July 2017 and was very well received by the industry resulting into feedback from 53 different parties based both locally and abroad.

Information on these new proposals can be accessed from the draft Bill in the link provided.

Key highlights of the new Gaming Act include:

  • Replacing the current multi-licence system with a system in which there will be two different types of licences – a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) licence and a Business-to-Business (B2B) licence – covering different types of activities across multiple distribution channels;
  • Moving towards an objective-based rather than excessively prescriptive regulatory approach, to allow for innovation whilst ensuring that the regulatory objectives are attained;
  • Broadening the regulatory scope to increase MGA oversight and allow for intervention where necessary and in a proportionate manner;
  • Widening the MGA’s powers under the compliance and enforcement functions to better achieve the regulatory objectives, in line with concurrent developments on anti-money laundering and funding of terrorism obligations;
  • Segmenting the Key Official role into various key functions within a licensed activity, requiring approval, for direct scrutiny and targeted supervisory controls, thereby raising the bar for persons of responsibility within a gaming operation;
  • Strengthening the player protection framework by formalising the mediatory role of the MGA’s Player Support Unit, enshrining segregation of player funds at law and moving towards a unified self-exclusion database across both remote and land-based delivery channels;
  • Introducing new and more effective processes for criminal and administrative justice, including the allocation of appeals from decisions of the Authority to the Administrative Review Tribunal and the introduction of a distinction between administrative and criminal offences;
  • Introducing the concept of administration to protect an operation in distress and, if necessary, to assist the winding down of an operation, thereby protecting jobs and player funds;
  • Moving towards automated reporting, facilitating adherence to regulatory obligations and strengthening the Authority’s oversight;
  • Bolstering the Authority’s role in the fight against manipulation of sports competitions by introducing new obligations on operators to monitor sports betting and report suspicious bets, in line with the efforts being made by the National Anti-Corruption Task Force in which the Authority also actively participates;
  • Exempting B2B licensees from gaming tax, thus increasing Malta’s competitiveness as a hub for B2B activities.
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Compliance Updates

Administrative Court of Appeal Reduces Kindred’s Sanction Fee from 2020

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The Administrative Court of Appeal in Jönköping (Sweden) has reduced the sanction fee that Kindred Group received in 2020 for bonus rules violations in 2019. The sanction fee of SEK 100 million ordered by the Swedish Gambling Authority (SGA) was reduced by the Administrative Court to SEK 50 million. The Administrative Court of Appeal has now determined to reduce it further to SEK 30 million.

Kindred Group plc (Kindred) wholly owned subsidiary, Spooniker Ltd, received a sanction fee of SEK 100 million in 2020 from the SGA for bonus rules violations in 2019. In its decision, the SGA held that some of Spooniker’s offers, competitions and promotions were to be considered as financial incentives and therefore as bonuses. Kindred immediately changed its offerings following guidance from the SGA.

To obtain judicial guidance on how to interpret the new legislation Kindred appealed the decision to the Administrative Court, which reduced the sanction fee to SEK 50 million. The Administrative Court of Appeal has now further reduced the sanction fee to SEK 30 million.

Kindred is of the opinion that since the rules were vague, opening for different interpretations, the sanction fee should be reduced in its total.

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Compliance Updates

Betting and Gaming Council Members Boast Record Compliance on Age Verification Checks

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The members of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) have achieved record compliance rates for age verification checks, according to leading industry auditor Serve Legal.

Independent figures provided by Serve Legal, show bookmakers boasted a 91.4% age verification pass rate, across thousands of annual checks.

Meanwhile, casinos have a near-perfect pass rate of 98%.

This represents a 30% compliance increase across the audit volume since 2009, when Serve Legal began working with the regulated betting and gaming sector.

Regulated betting and gaming is now the leading sector in the UK for age verification compliance, better than supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol forecourts and delivering 10-15% higher compliance rates than the alcohol and lottery sectors annually.

BGC members take a zero-tolerance approach to betting by children and have significantly raised standards to protect young people.

The most popular forms of betting by children are legal arcade games like penny pusher and claw grab machines, bets between friends or family, and playing cards for money – not with BGC members.

BGC members enforce strict age verification on all their products to prevent underage gaming and will further strengthen age verification measures by increasing the checking age from “Think 21” to “Think 25” across betting shops and casinos. This policy will require anyone who is over 18 but looks under 25 to provide ID.

The BGC also funds the £10m Young People’s Gambling Harm Prevention Programme, delivered by leading charities YGAM and GamCare, which has reached more than two million 11 to 19-year-olds, and those working with them, in the UK.

Wes Himes, Executive Director of Standards and Innovation, said: “The BGC and our members are incredibly proud of these compliance rates, which put us ahead of our peers in every department.

“I am hugely grateful to Serve Legal for their work over the last 15 years, who have been instrumental in this change. Serve Legal, alongside our members and their dedicated staff, have led the charge in raising standards and setting a new benchmark for excellence.

“Bookmakers and casinos play a vital economic role on the UK’s hard-pressed high streets, as well as in the leisure and tourism sector. But economic contribution has to go hand-in-hand with the highest standards.

“We are delivering that, which should be welcome news to customers and communities across the country. Our work to raise standards goes on, and I expect these compliance rates to continue improving across the land-based betting and gaming sector.”

Serve Legal is the market-leading provider of ID and compliance testing services in the UK & Ireland. Providing extensive, independent audit services to national retailers, leisure operators and sports broadcasters, Serve Legal’s site audits help clients protect and improve operational and compliance standards.

Over the last 15 years, Serve Legal has conducted over 200,000 bookmaker and casino site audits, to ensure due diligence across a range of compliance issues for BGC members.

Audit checks were conducted at single-site businesses through to national brands with thousands of locations on UK high streets.

Serve Legal Client Manager Ali Deering said: “Compliance challenges can be greater for smaller independent bookmakers. The BGC have done admirable work in bringing them up to speed with the latest compliance support, to offer a level playing field with other big names in the industry. At Serve Legal we are proud to be supporting all of the BGC’s members, including casinos, with their due diligence and celebrate the tangible successes in each of them!”

The improvement comes as a result of new measures on customer interactions and improved “challenge on entry” standards for age verification.

Serve Legal CEO Ed Heaver said: “The Serve Legal team are incredibly proud of the work conducted by the BGC and their members. Their impressive dedication and work ethic has paid off in some highly impressive statistics, showing the 30% compliance increase across the industry over the time that we have worked in the sector. We thank the BGC for pioneering their mission of customer safety alongside ours.”

The BGC’s commitment to protecting young people extends beyond land-based betting and gaming, including recent commitments on advertising.

In 2019, BGC members introduced the whistle-to-whistle ban on TV betting commercials during live sports before the 9 pm watershed, which led to the number of such ads being seen by children at that time falling by 97%.

BGC members have also introduced new age-gating rules for advertising on social media platforms, targeting ads to those aged 25 and over unless a platform can verifiably prove that its age-gating systems can prevent under-18s from accessing regulated betting and gaming advertising content.

The BGC has also written to the Government, asking them to urge social media companies to cooperate more closely with the betting and gaming industry in limiting marketing seen by young people and problem gamblers.

Recent data from the Gambling Commission published last year showed young people’s exposure to betting and gaming adverts and promotions had declined compared to the previous year.

Of 11 to 17-year-olds, 55% had seen regulated betting and gaming adverts offline, compared to 66% in 2022, and 53% had seen adverts online, compared to 63% in 2022.

The Government has previously stated research did not establish a causal link between exposure to advertising and the development of problem betting and gaming.

The regulated betting and gaming industry is determined to promote safer gaming, unlike the unsafe and growing online black market, which has none of the safeguards strictly employed by BGC members.

BGC members overall contribute £7.1bn to the economy and generate £4.2bn in tax while supporting 110,000 jobs.

Each month in Great Britain around 22.5m adults have a bet and the most recent NHS Health Survey for England estimated that 0.4% of the adult population are problem gamblers.

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Montenegro Ministry Ignores EU Law and Bans Apple Pay, PayPal, Mobile Banking in Controversial Betting Law Amendments

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In a move that has raised eyebrows across the global financial community, including the European betting and iGaming sectors, Montenegro has enacted amendments to its gambling laws that effectively ban the use of modern electronic payment methods, including Apple Pay, PayPal, mobile banking, IPS, and e-banking

Ironically, the Minister of Finance stated a few days ago that the country has no obligation to comply with EU rules, a paradoxical stance for a nation actively seeking EU membership and aiming to integrate into the world of digital business.

In 2021, the European Commission urged Montenegro to strengthen its efforts to counter money laundering. However, the recent amendments move in the opposite direction, potentially isolating the country from EU practices and global financial community trends.

Since the beginning of 2024, however, Montenegro’s gambling sector has been in turmoil.

 

The Industry Response

The controversial ban on electronic payments seems designed to curb competition, preventing the growth of foreign-owned companies, including U.S. enterprises. This move contradicts global business practices and undermines the principles of competitive business. A petition calling to halt the change received 25,000 signatures, representing around 5% of the country’s electorate, in just five days. It highlighted the risk of significant job losses in the industry and the potential economic repercussions of such legislative measures.

Montenegro Bet, the country’s nationwide trade association, has submitted the petition to the country’s assembly and initiated a constitutional review, highlighting concerns over the unconstitutionality of the amendments. Additionally, they are working with international institutions to draw attention to the negative impacts of the law changes and their contradictions with EU directives. All those attempts have remained without a single institutional response.

 

Overview of Breaches of EU Acquis by Article 68f

Much of the backlash to the amendments comes from the view that they conflict with European Union (EU) law. While Montenegro isn’t currently in the EU, it is a candidate for membership and is expected to align its laws with EU standards. The amendments clash with several key EU legal provisions, including the TFEU, Payment Services Directive, which seeks to form an integrated market for electronic payments, and the EU 4 and 5AML Directives, which categorize cash transactions as high risk for money laundering.

 

Multiple Lawsuits Incoming

The combination of apparent corruptive practices orchestrated by local companies within the same industry and certain individuals within the Ministry of Finance results in an attempt to de facto expel multiple operators, including those based in U.S, clearly denying equal market access.

This has already led to substantial legal challenges. Multiple operators are preparing preliminary steps toward legal action, including a lawsuit before the International Court for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

 

A Cash and Retail-Loving Law in the Middle of the Digital Age

The amendment to Article 68f of Montenegro’s gambling law has sparked significant concern within the country’s gambling sector. The new law disables various electronic payment methods, such as e-banking and mobile payments, for depositing funds into betting accounts. This leaves bettors in Montenegro with only two options: they must either enter a betting shop to place a cash wager, which then transfers funds into their accounts, or pay via card, but only at a terminal in a betting shop.

This strange move forces players to go to a store just to fund their online accounts, which is inconvenient in a time when digital transfers should be the norm.

 

Defying Global Trends and AML Standards – What Next?

Montenegro’s move to limit electronic payments is an outlier among global trends. Internationally, there is a clear shift towards reducing cash transactions in favor of electronic payments, as advocated by bodies like Moneyval and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The global financial community is embracing digital solutions for their transparency and efficiency.

Montenegro’s stance not only isolates it from EU practices but also contradicts the direction of the global financial community, increasing the risk of money laundering and undermining investor confidence.

The prohibition of the safest and most advanced methods of online payment business, such as Apple Pay and PayPal, in favor of promoting cash transactions, is a troubling development that warrants urgent attention and action from both national and international stakeholders.

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