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Responsible gaming following the issue of first licences in 2004
Since the start, in 2004, of the licensing of companies wishing to offer gaming services, Malta has always pledged to provide an effective protection for players through the filters of responsible gaming.
The Responsible Gaming Foundation was the first to be launched – in February 2014 – by the MGA in conjunction with the Ministry for Family Affairs and Social Solidarity, following the debate in Parliament on the amendments of the Lotteries and Other Games Act (Cap.438 of the Laws of Malta). This issued the first regulations on responsible gaming. The Government and Opposition collectively agreed on the establishment of a fund to promote responsible gaming and initiatives/studies in relation to responsible gaming measures and actions.
Furthermore, through the promulgation of the Gaming Player Protection Regulations in 2018, various safeguards in respect of fair gaming, such as ensuring proper controls, policies and procedures, are now in place to prevent gaming by minors. This helps to protect vulnerable people and certainly ensures that the interests of all players are adequately safeguarded through the provision of information on avenues of recourse.
The aim of the Responsible Gaming Foundation is to create a wider awareness of the extent, possible causes and consequences of excessive gambling in Malta, with specific focus on prevention. It aims to provide support and advice to compulsive gamblers on their journey to a full recovery. It goes without saying that responsible gaming denotes a broad spectrum that has as its primary goal the concept of a safe user experience that protects players from potential negative consequences when gambling online.
This objective is put together by both betting companies and land-based casinos in order to mitigate gambling addiction, promote the awareness of the negative consequences which arise from compulsive gambling and also present an equal playing field for all gamers. The subject of gaming dependency is well shielded by legislation which obliges gaming platforms to incorporate effective mechanisms such as self-exclusion schemes.
One area that is extremely worrying is underage gambling. Players who have not reached the age of majority are not allowed to make use of gambling services. Another area that can potentially infiltrate every field of gaming is money-laundering, which directs its attention towards fraudulent and criminal behaviour.
Operators in Malta are required to implement AML (anti money-laundering) policies which involve implementing Know Your Client (KYC) processes when taking new customers on board and immediately reporting any suspicious transactions.
Another concept is that of maintaining information privacy, which means the protection of customer data and records against unauthorised or unnecessary disclosure.
In addition, platforms offering betting options for sporting events and casino games must ensure that players are afforded a reliable software platform that can protect their personal data and financial details. This leads to a safer and more secure online environment. Operators should ensure that their platforms are safe locations, where players can enjoy themselves in a safe environment, and that all transactions and processes are developed with the necessary checks.
In a typical scenario, one meets players who experience difficulties in controlling the amount of time or money they are spending on games.
Another mechanism that helps gamblers control their gambling habits is play limits which provides functionality for setting game play limits and support for the display of in-game messages when such limits have been reached. Limits can be imposed on a session or on a daily, weekly or monthly basis and can also be set up to limit the length of a session or a betting limit for a specific game and maximum single bet by game.
In exercising the powers conferred by article 7(2) of the Gaming Act, 2018, the Malta Gaming Authority has issued a directive to delineate in further detail the specific player protection requirements which authorised people must make readily available to players by way of leaflets or other information material in casinos. This will facilitate access to one or more established organisations that aid those who have gambling problem issues.
It should be noted that such leaflets will be placed in visible locations in a casino’s premises, and (as applicable) next to automatic teller machines. Furthermore, in order to help problem online players there will be reality checks consisting of reminders directed towards the player in order to let him/her know for how long they have been playing and how much they have won or lost. Online players who request closure, or permanent closure, of an account will be asked by the gaming operator whether or not this is to be interpreted as a self-exclusion request.
For instance, in the UK, the Gambling Commission has been a pioneer in implementing responsible gambling. On another wavelength, one meets with AML policies that mandate that operators apply investigative actions in relation to the source of wealth of players. An important caveat is one that prohibits operators from confiscating money from players’ accounts because of prolonged inactivity.
Since the onset of licensed gaming activities in Malta, there has been the consolidation of three entities – Gaming Malta, the European Gaming Institute of Malta and the Responsible Gaming Foundation – in a concerted drive to create and better regulate a robust and solid framework that not only regulates gambling operators but also offers a number of services to players in need of rehabilitation.
In 2014, the Malta Responsible Gaming Foundation was established in response to a debate in Parliament on the amendments of the Lotteries and Other Games Act. The Foundation is empowered to increase awareness of gambling addiction, how it can occur and its consequences, as well as how to provide help for gamblers who need it, whilst also offering assistance during the rehabilitation period.
The Commission is funded by the Maltese Gaming Sector, both online and offline. The launch of Gaming Malta is fortuitous. Firstly, it is a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote Malta as the leading country and a pioneer in the European gaming sector. Apart from the essential topic of responsible gaming, there is information on the extended functions of the European Gaming Institute (EGI). This is a joint venture between the MGA and MCAST that has the primary objective of training and educating individuals vis-à-vis the gaming industry. It offers a number of short-term courses, diplomas and master’s programmes for those interested in learning more about this ever-growing industry which contributes 12 per cent of GDP.
This initiative is a welcome move to upgrade the skills of the local workforce in preparation for the future sustainable growth of the gaming sector.