Several Italian-based gambling operators licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority are now terminating their permits as the regulator is conducting a money-laundering probe. According to the Times of Malta, at least five operators have already exited the island’s gaming jurisdiction in the past month.
In February, Italian authorities uncovered an illegal gambling ring connected to the company Phoenix International Ltd., which held a licence by the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA). The police found links between the operator known for its Bsport24 and B28sport websites and Italian Benedetto Bacchi, who was arrested as part of the operation. This was just one case in a series of operations in a large crackdown on organized crime, with Italian media outlets reporting numerous cases of MGA licensees linked to shady organizations and mafia crime.
The MGA suspended the licence of Phoenix International after the details about the illegal gambling ring were publicly announced. In a bid to avoid further links with operators under investigation, the Maltese regulator said it would conduct its own probe into all licensees owned by Italian individuals or connected to Italy in any way. Although the MGA has not commented on its probe and the findings from it, many media outlets report that several companies have preferred to have their licences cancelled instead of answering questions.
On Tuesday, the Times of Malta wrote that along with Phoenix International, online sportsbook Leaderbet and its operator LB Group Limited had their licence revoked by MGA. Three more operators gave up their licences, according to the news website, including the Betent Group Ltd. (Betend.com), Giordani Limited (Giordani), Potter Mrc Ltd. (Potterbet). They did so voluntarily when they were notified that the regulator would require information regarding their policies and anti-money laundering protocols.
The Malta Gaming Authority Linked with Italian Mafia
This is not the first time the MGA has been linked with companies and individuals prosecuted by the Italian police. The Malta Gaming Authority is known as one of the most stringent and reputable gambling regulators, and its credibility is crucial as the gambling industry contributes approximately 12 per cent to the island nation’s economy. It has been linked, however, with organized crime multiple times.
In 2015, a high-profile case showed the lack of collaboration between the international law enforcement, the Italian police and the Maltese regulator. In a joint operation, investigators seized the assets of six companies and revealed that the Calabrian mafia clan ’Ndrangheta owned three Maltese gaming licences through Italian companies, registered in Malta. The organized crime group lad laundered millions of euros, according to the police.
Last year, another investigation uncovered illegal activities linked with horse racing in Palermo. The police said that mafia bosses were planning to relocate their illicit operations in Malta and take advantage of online gambling opportunities. Even more cases were reported by the media in the past few years causing alarm among operators and MGA representatives, who have, so far, denied any connections to illegal activities and mafia operations.
Announcing a crackdown on money-laundering, the regulatory body took long-anticipated measures to clear its name and reputation. Its review looks into all licensees owned by Italian citizens or linked to Italy through subsidiaries and third parties.
Meanwhile, in its European Semester Winter Package, the European Commission said that it is not certain if the anti-money laundering measures taken recently by Malta would be effective. The report adds that financial supervision “remains a challenge”. The measures in question include the adoption of EU’s Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive which, among other things, imposes strict rules and onerous obligations on online gambling operators.