Bill 55 is “crystallising the long-standing public policy in Malta” – Antonio Ghio

Bill 55 is “crystallising the long-standing public policy in Malta” – Antonio Ghio

Malta’s Bill 55 has received its fair share of attention in recent months. In April of this year, it was tabled in the Maltese Parliament, a proposed amendment to the Gaming Act of Malta that aims to protect the gaming companies licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) from legal actions taken by foreign players or authorities. Bill 55 was unanimously approved in Parliament in June 2023. It is now Article 56A of the Malta Gaming Act.

The Article states that no action shall lie against a licence holder or its officers or key persons for matters relating to the provision of a gaming service, or against a player for the receipt of such gaming service, if such action conflicts with or undermines the legality of the provision of gaming services in or from Malta by virtue of a licence issued by the MGA. Furthermore, the Article states that Maltese courts shall refuse recognition and enforcement of any foreign judgment or decision given upon an action of this type.

Criticism of Article 56A

Article 56A has been criticised by some Austrian and German lawyers who represent players who have sued Maltese gaming companies for offering their services in violation of Austrian and German gaming laws, more specifically to recoup money lost. The lawyers claim that the amendment is an attempt by the Maltese government to undermine European rule of law and block the fundamental rights of EU citizens and residents. They have written to the European Commission to express their concerns and request intervention.

Speaking during a SiGMA podcast recently, Antonio Ghio, senior partner at Fenech & Fenech Advocates said that Article 56A “is crystallising the long-standing public policy in Malta vis-a-vis the provision of gaming services from Malta through a Maltese gaming license from a point of supply principle”. This has always been adopted by the MGA and reflects Malta’s position vis à vis the freedom of movement of goods and services within the EU. He added that, in practice, the new amendment “provides that the Maltese operators should be protected through the Maltese regulatory landscape especially when we’re looking at the enforcement of foreign judgments which do not fully reflect the basic principles and pillars on which the Maltese regulatory regime is based.”

Echoing this point, a spokesperson for the MGA, in comments to SiGMA News added that “the scope of the amendments enacted into law is highly restricted. The law does not automatically apply to all foreign judgments and it does not, in any way, prevent legal action from being taken against a Maltese licensee. It therefore should be emphasised that not every judgment relating to the operations of gaming operators with an MGA licence would be in violation of Maltese public policy.”

Antonio Ghio Bill 55 podcast
SiGMA’s Trevor De Giorgio and Antonio Ghio, senior partner at Fenech & Fenech Advocates during the recent SiGMA podcast

Malta spearheading gaming regulation

Malta has been a pioneer on the international map when it comes to the regulation of legal online gaming, markedly before becoming a full EU member state. Ghio added that gaming is an area of substantive law which “is still not harmonised at a European level… The established position today is that through judgments and decisions of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) we saw that member states are free to impose their own national localised regulatory frameworks when it comes to the provision of gaming services.”

Malta’s long-standing position over the years has been that the provision of online gaming throughout Europe should be protected under the fundamental freedoms. These include the freedom of movement of goods and services. However, “there were ECJ judgments which basically stipulated that member states have a right to impose their own national regimes for various reasons including player protection and consumer legislation.” The complexity of the current situation, explained Ghio, is that “on one side we have a situation where the underlying substantive law is not harmonised. On the other side we have a long-established heritage as far as EU legislation is concerned when it comes to mutual recognition of court judgments.  We have the Brussels 1 Recast Regulation which provides that a decision which is published from a court in a member state could be enforced in another member state.” This complexity has led to some circles voicing criticism targeted at Article 56A, as detailed above.

Ghio elaborated that “when a foreign member state is applying its own national laws through its own national courts and have a judgment promulgated which goes against a Maltese gaming company, one could dare to say that indirectly they are trying to enforce that specific regulatory regime outside of their shores through the mutual recognition of judgment. Referring specifically to Austria, Ghio explained that the jurisdiction has a gaming “regime which is monopolistic in nature”. Referring to gaming related court cases, Ghio added that “the Austrian courts repeatedly have refused to refer certain matters up to the European Court of Justice”. Ghio referred to the court cases against Maltese licenced operators, where “the absolute majority of these decisions in Austria relate to players seeking to recoup their losses.”

Enshrining public policy into law

In comments to SiGMA News, MGA commented that “The legislator’s intention behind the introduction of Article 56A is to enshrine into law the long-standing public policy of Malta in relation to the gaming sector.” It added, “It is important to note that the Maltese law does not create additional or separate grounds for refusing to recognise or enforce judgments to those already established under EU regulations (the Brussels I Recast Regulation). It is simply an interpretation of the ordre public grounds for refusal envisaged in said EU regulation.” To this end, Ghio commented that “the whole discussion now is determining what is public policy”. It is important to clarify that the protection which Article 56A is providing is limited to Maltese license holders and their officers and there is no specific retroactivity written in the Article.

Additionally, Ghio clarified that “under the Maltese Constitution there is a specific principle which is that the state has an obligation to protect private Enterprise in Malta and that is Article 56A is attempting to do.” Ghio explained that in recent years, the European commission has put gaming law on the back burner whereas in Malta, gaming regulation was prioritised. He added that whilst it is good news that the European Commission is looking into the current situation in the industry, it should be done consistently across member states and not exclusively for Malta.

In a recent statement published on its site, the German Gaming Regulator (Joint Gambling Authority of the Länder or GGL) referred to Article 56A as a “protective shield”, which is “unlikely to be compatible with European requirements for the recognition of decisions”. Referring to these comments, in particular the analogy of the shield, Ghio commented that throughout the centuries, Malta has had a long history of acting as a shield protecting others who have made its shores their home. The “protective shield” analogy of Article 56A defending Maltese interests and the interests of those who choose to conduct their business within the robust regulatory framework of the Malta Gaming Act is indeed fitting.

Join the upcoming SiGMA event in Curacao

SiGMA Curacao is less than 2 weeks away. It will be held in from the 25 – 28 September. The event is hosted by the Ministry of Finance in association with SiGMA Curacao

Don’t miss this exclusive opportunity to be part of SiGMA Curacao, where you can gain valuable insights into the new gambling legislation, explore the thriving iGaming industry, and connect with key players in Curacao. Check out all the details here.

Register here to secure your place at this landmark event.  

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Content Team 3 years ago
Event Reschedule: MGS Entertainment Show
MGS Entertainment Show will be rescheduled to November 16-18, 2021, at The Venetian Macao together with MGS Summit 2021 After an extensive communication among the industry, the reschedule have been mutually decided by a vote among our members, exhibitors and partners based on the current industry status and business opportunities. We believe that our clients’ interests always come first and we shall provide our exhibitors and visitors with a safe and health exhibition environment, sufficient time for meticulous preparation and eventually a commercially viable trade show. (more…)
Content Team 3 years ago
M&A Action: Superbet acquires Napoleon Sports & Casino
The new deal will see Superbet access the Belgian market through Napoloeon Sports & Casino Romania-based, Superbet, has struck a deal to acquire outright the shares of Napoleon Sports & Casino from its current owner - investment fund Waterland Private Equity investments. The M&A deal is in line with Superbet's aim to continue to grow across Europe and beyond as the new acquisition has helped them gain access to the regulated Belgian market. Superbet's chief executive, Johnny Hartnett expressed his delight at the deal, which apart from allowing access to a newly regulated market - Superbet will also take on & welcome Napoleon's staff. (more…)
Content Team 2 years ago
BGaming to showcase its first multiplayer crash game at SiGMA Europe
BGaming is delighted to announce that the studio will showcase its best products and solutions at SiGMA Europe

The  iGaming industry exhibition that will take place in Malta from 15th to 20th of November. Content for crypto casinos, the interest in which is growing literally day by day, will be in the focus of the provider. All attendees will have a chance to get acquainted with the first “crash” mechanics game in the BGaming collection called Space XY. With a simple interface but highly entertaining playing process, the title meets the latest iGaming trends and is going to gain popularity in a blink of an eye.

[caption id="attachment_283590" align="alignleft" width="117"]Alexandr Shavel Alexandr Shavel, Head of BizDev Department at BGaming.[/caption]

“SiGMA is considered one of the largest iGaming shows. We expect to have fruitful days in Malta and we’re extremely glad to showcase Space XY. It’s a completely new product for us. We follow all the market tendencies and we are sure that Space XY will be in demand! We’re also working on a set of crypto dice games and will be glad to offer operators new versions of Plinko, Rocket Dice, Head & Tails. Of course, we have prepared some special offers that will surprise our clients,” noted Alexandr Shavel, Head of BizDev Department at BGaming.

Hundreds of exhibitors will also get the opportunity to get acquainted with top studio titles including so-called Brand Exclusive games. The solution which is already well-estimated by the industry leaders will be presented at the BGaming booth. Each Brand Exclusive title is customized according to the operator's requirements and preferences giving the opportunity to embody creative ideas and follow the casino design features. It allows the operator to increase the player's loyalty to the game and boost the turnover. Stake, Bitstarz, PlayAmo, VBet, and other reputable operators have Brand Exclusive titles in their collections.
For the past two years, BGaming has shown rapid growth. MGA license received in March 2021, allowed the provider to boost its international reach and widen its partner’s network by giving access to the various portfolio of online casino games. The studio has also launched Help Center for clients that allowed to accelerate the integration process and make it easier.
BGaming is a fast-growing game provider converting gaming into gaming. Thanks to an expert team and a player-driven approach the studio creates innovative and engaging products featured on reputable platforms and 550+ online casinos worldwide. BGaming is the world’s first to support cryptocurrencies and offer Provably Fair games. Today the brand's portfolio includes 65+ products with HD graphics and a clear user interface for every device.

Next up: Malta Week

Don’t miss out on amazing networking opportunities and exclusive industry insights at Malta Week. Four leading shows will bring the best of the business back-to-back to a first-class meeting point. Malta Week will consist of SiGMA, AIBC, Med-Tech World and AGS, each presenting the top developments of their focal industries.

The cross-collaboration of each brand makes Malta Week the number one destination for leading think-tanks of the gaming sector, emerging tech, digital health, and digital marketing. The middle of the Mediterranean is the perfect place for multi-faceted business deals and face-to-face conversations with leading affiliates, policymakers, and thought leaders.

Content Team 2 years ago
SlotStars launches on the SkillOnNet network
New online casino brand welcomes players with an innovative Prize Twister bonus and then promises a highly entertaining experience with 2,500 slots and casino games to choose from

SlotStars, a brand-new online casino brand that promises to make players the star of the show, has gone live to players in regulated markets including the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and all Malta jurisdictions via the award-winning SkillOnNet platform.

Content Team 2 years ago
BetConstruct brings new wave of East & West virtual expo
BetConstruct is opening the doors of its digital event once more for the most extensive installment of the virtual expo so far

Upon receiving spectacular feedback and genuine excitement from those involved, BetConstruct is ready to repeat the success with East & West: New Wave which will take place on June 1 with dozens of exhibitors, speakers and thousands of visitors.

Content Team 2 years ago
Habanero nets MGA licence
Hugely popular supplier secures one of Europe’s most valuable accreditations Premium slots and table games provider Habanero has secured a hugely important regulatory milestone through the acquisition of its Critical Gaming Supply Licence from the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA). (more…)
Content Team 3 years ago
GiG media reaches top 3 in EGR power affiliates ranking
GiG Media has been given industry recognition as one of the top three power affiliates within the gaming industry in this year’s Power Affiliate Ranking 2021

The annual Power Affiliates list commends 25 of the most successful affiliate businesses in the global gambling industry and is referred to by EGR as “a comprehensive rundown of the biggest online gambling affiliates operating in the sector today.”

Content Team 2 years ago