Chief of LGA speaks about Malta and gambling

Licensing jurisdiction has 335 operations on its books, says new chief

Reuben Portanier, who took over as chief executive officer of Malta's online gambling licensing body the Lotteries and Gaming Authority (LGA) nine months ago, has so far maintained a low international profile, but this week broke out somewhat in an interview with The Sunday Times newspaper.

Portainier took a decidedly upbeat stance in the interview, pushing the LGA's 14-staff presence at the upcoming IGE-ICEi show in London at the end of this (January) month and claiming that the prospects for growth in Malta's remote gaming industry this year are encouraging.

Despite the poor global economic conditions last year, Malta's Internet licensing industry continued to grow, the official said, opining that the trend will continue.

The LGA now has on its books over 335 licences held by some 250 operators, and in 2009, the remote gaming sector paid Euro 19 million in gaming duties, up from Euro 15.6 million the previous year, he revealed.

Portanier claimed that more than half of the entire exhibition area at the expo will be occupied by entities or companies with a Maltese connection, including the LGA itself, participating in ICEi for the seventh time.

"Maltese audit firms, real estate agents, telecommunication providers, law firms and other operators will attend. International participants will include the industry's top operators, regulators, and service providers," Portanier explained. "The entire i-gaming ecosystem will be present under one roof; delegates are able to visit several jurisdictions without having to travel extensively.

"It is important that operators seeking to establish their business in Malta have full visibility of what the local business environment is like.

"They usually seek information about the tax regime and business friendliness; 95 percent of the queries are technical or legal, but others focus on issues like property prices and the crime rate."

The official emphasised Malta's commitment to EU principles of free movement of goods and services between member nations as a member of the EU and the Eurozone.

Keeping abreast of dynamic technology developments is one of the important challenges that Malta faces as a jurisdiction in the fast-moving world of Internet gambling, and resources are devoted to this, he said.

"We are not a fly-by-night regulator," Portanier emphasised. "We improve constantly. We ensure that we are in tune with the technical, legal, European and gaming changes within the industry. The LGA's 52 staff includes certifiers, auditors, and legal experts.

"We also have a network of certifiers from private industry to which we outsource. This ensures a degree of independence. That is what helps us react to changes swiftly."

The regulator oversees a complex industry. The workload of keeping out unwanted elements like money-laundering and operators involved in illicit activity, and protecting vulnerable groups like children, is heavy in an industry which operates round-the-clock, Portanier told the Sunday Times.

The LGA collaborates strongly with the police, other authorities, and banks. Overseas, it works with Europol, Interpol, and regulators, to carry out investigations and due diligence procedures.

The LGA has been in detailed consultation with the online gambling industry on the Mediterranean island over the past few months, Portanier revealed. It has accelerated its turnaround time by 27 percent after stakeholders raised the issue of the backlog in licence processing, and the LGA has now set itself a target to speed up the processing period by 40 to 45 percent without compromising on standards and thoroughness.

Other improvements are also lined up for 2010 following talks with the Malta Remote Gaming Council, which represents a considerable number of licence holders. The industry has also forwarded suggestions on ways to mitigate other issues, particularly limiting some technological dependencies. Two working committees are currently winding up their tasks to produce their findings on technological advances in the next few weeks.

Another immediate major task for the LGA is the consolidation of the legal framework, Portanier told the newspaper. "We have an advisory capacity to the legislator," he explained. "We are currently going through a series of reviews. Where there are elements for swift intervention which are within the authority's control, we modify technical or procedural policies.

"We [also] participate very actively in all the European Commission's working groups, expressing our position at the table."

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