The threat to online gaming
Was it just a diversionary tactic to bring up in a dramatic way the issue of online gaming as it was brought up over the past weekend?
The threat has always been there although it has become more acute over the past months.
The facts were already public and those interested knew about them. At the very least, this issue had been aired and explained by the former minister Jose Herrera during the time when online gaming fell within his remit. However no dramatic tones were used.
The issue is easily explained. The Council of Europe, not the EU, had been considering changing some of the rules of gaming in that they would have wanted online players to be bound by the rules of their country not the rules of the country where the online gaming companies are based.
For a country hosting online gaming companies, such as Malta, this would create an almighty headache: how can a gaming company fall under as many legal jurisdictions as it has clients? How can one gaming company be expected to treat a French gamer under the French laws and an Icelandic gamer under the rules of Iceland?
Then a complication crept in. Since the EU member states are also members of the Council of Europe, Malta urged a common EU stance in this
So the matter, from a Council of Europe issue became an EU issue.
This happened at a time when there is a growing move in the EU towards a better regulation of online gaming.
Malta’s regulatory framework is far advanced than most other legal frameworks in the EU. This is what has brought over so many gaming companies to Malta – there are now some 300 of them and increasing.
This sector has become a mainstay of the Maltese economy, contributing to a fair share of the GNP and employing so many people.
Obviously, as always happens when a small country moves far in advance of the rest of the pack, this has attracted envy and snide remarks. For many years, Malta has had to patiently bat away allegations it is a flag of convenience, a rogue country and an offshore tax evasion heaven. It is none of these, but each time such an allegation is made, it is getting harder to show Malta is a legal jurisdiction obeying all the rules.
(Of course, Malta’s task of persuasion is made infinitely harder when it is discovered that one of its ministers has an account in a dicey jurisdiction and that this minister is still a serving Cabinet member).
If the recent reports in the media are to be believed, Malta is now on its own, as one by one the other countries have dropped their objection to what may become a new EU directive.
This situation calls for the utmost delicacy and diplomatic prudence. Certainly it does not call for the issue to become a partisan one with the prime minister challenging the Opposition to say if they will be supporting the Malta position.
What does the government plan to do? Theoretically, Malta can use its veto, but would that be wise? Successive ministers have been in close contact with the financial services sector and all, more or less, understand the risks and the dangers.
So instead of a shouting match, let there be silence and diplomacy. Let all involved put their heads together and see how best they can defend Malta’s interests.
Malta is already in the wrong limelight because of Panama Papers. A wrong step in this issue can easily push Malta to be seen as a rogue country, a haven for underhand dealing, maybe even a money laundering centre. It is none of these and must steadfastly show it is a legitimate jurisdiction.
It has been in similar situations in the past and its steadfastness has always won the day.