Riders of the Storm; Malta Keeps the iShip Afloat

In decidedly mixed news, the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) has reported that the country’s gambling industry, a European powerhouse of online betting, contributed over 40 per cent less to its national economy last year, compared to 2019.

Directly employing 8,300 people, 90 per cent of them in the online sector, Malta’s gambling industry generated an estimated €924 million for the economy in 2020 (£792m/US$1.1bn), compared to €1.56 billion the previous year (£1.33bn/US$1.84bn).

Yet, somewhat surprisingly given the stats, MGA revenue itself only fell a relatively modest 5.3 per cent to €77.3 million (£66.23m/US$91.46m).

The Covid-19 pandemic was the biggest factor in the negative slide, said the MGA in its annual report.

“2020 will undoubtedly be remembered for the challenges the pandemic presented us with,” said MGA CEO Dr. Carl Brincat. “I am proud of the authority’s employees who worked tirelessly to ensure that we continued to perform the functions required of us by law.

“Keeping the ship steady serves as a strong foundation for us to look ahead with renewed commitment to keep building on the positives and improve on our shortcomings, to reach new heights in our regulatory approach.”

A breakdown of MGA 2020 income shows fees garnered €12.2 million (£10.45m/US$14.43m), while the bulk of income, some €65 million (£55.69m/US$76.9m), came from compliance charges and levies.

One element of the MGA annual report of heightened import, given the Mediterranean nation’s recent greylisting by money-laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force, is verification that the MGA is doing its best to clean up Malta’s tarnished image.

Last year the authority, showing real teeth, instigated 1,475 criminal probes, an increase of almost 14 per cent over 2019, rejected 20 gaming applications, cancelled the licences of 12 betting firms, suspended the licenses of three more and issued 69 official warnings because of suspicious fiscal activity.

At year’s end 2020, according to MGA figures, Malta had 323 mostly online licensed betting firms — impressive figures for a country with a population of fewer than 500,000 people.