The threat to on­line gam­ing

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

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

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re­gard.

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.

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