The Lotteries and Gaming Authority of Malta: A Rubber Stamp in EU Clothing
The official online gaming regulator of Malta has demonstrated time and time again that it has no interest in protecting consumers, “Since 2008 the LGA has won the “Sitting on One’s Hands” award every single year. Considering such stiff competition from the world of gaming regulation this is no small feat.” nor in aiding in disputes with the sites it regulates.
It has failed consistently to enforce the Malta gaming regulations and has gone out of its way to dodge any responsibility. Players must know that if they play on a site regulated primarily under the LGA, that the license is a meaningless rubber stamp and the LGA will do nothing if the operator acts inappropriately.
This will not come as a particular surprise to those in the industry, who will have witnessed the countless failures of the LGA over the last four years. To players in the United States, it will likely be met with a roll of the eyes—all regulators are jokes of a system, mere offshore tax havens with no interest in the players, right?
However, the LGA does a strikingly good job of presenting itself as a legitimate regulatory body with consumer protection at the forefront of its mind. Indeed, the LGA is governed under the Malta Remote Gaming Regulation 2004 (PDF) which makes player protection a cornerstone of its regulatory framework. Section 9 (b) lists “protection of the player” as one of four primary conditions for granting a license; Section 13 (a) states that failure “to meet commitments to players” is grounds for license revocation.
It is also one of the few regulations that unequivocally requires segregation of player funds. Under Section 8 it states:
A licensee shall keep players’ funds separately from the licensee’s own funds in a Clients’ account held with a credit institution approved by the Authority … the funds in the players’ account … shall at any time be at least equal to the aggregate of the amount standing to the credit of players’ accounts held by the licensee.”
“With Purple Lounge, they can’t even be bothered to pretend to be doing their job. The same week that shit was hitting the purple fan, the LGA terminated their license and thus claimed to have no further responsibility in the matter.” At any point, the Authority can demand to see a bank guarantee to demonstrate that the players’ funds are held in the full amount, and a license can be suspended if they don’t get a response within three days.
And coinciding with the introduction of the Gaming Regulation 2004 was the admittance of Malta into the European Union. Unlike other offshore jurisdictions like Alderney, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man—which are all geographically European but none EU member states—here was Malta, with real gaming regulations and real EU credentials.
“When Malta joined the EU, most everyone in the industry was thrilled,” wrote Bryan Bailey, owner of player advocacy website Casinomeister, back in 2008:
The LGA was the first licensing agency based in a bona fide country in the EU … [it] had representatives at most industry focused conferences—they seemed to be clued up on what players expected. They even were subscribing to our newsletter. Everything seemed honky dory in happy clappy online casino-land.
That was, of course, until they actually had to do some regulating—and it didn’t take long for the LGA to show their true colors.
In 2008 it won two awards in Casinomeister’s annual celebration of the “Best and Worst in Online Gambling”—both accolades firmly in the latter group—scooping “Biggest Disappointment” and “Sitting on One’s Hands” Awards for its failure to help players or even respond to customer complaints in a dispute with Interwitten over the confiscation of winnings.
Since 2008 the LGA has won the “Sitting on One’s Hands” award every single year. Considering such stiff competition from the world of gaming regulation this is no small feat.
“When players mention 'it’s a Malta licensed casino’ in the [CasinoMeister community forums], there is a collective sniggering among everyone since it’s common knowledge that Malta is best known for sitting on their hands,” Bailey wrote in 2009. In 2010, the LGA also picked up the dubious “Head in the Sand” accolade. In the most recent awards of 2011, following the discovery that an LGA licensee was running scam software, Bally wrote:
“I was really hoping to bestow this award to another worthy contender this year, but after the iButler software issue … these guys win it 'hands down’.”
The LGA is a joke to online casino players. And now online poker players can share the same black humor.
Everleaf and Purple Lounge
There are two serious ongoing issues of LGA licensees who are unequivocally failing to follow the guidelines of the Malta Remote Gaming Regulation 2004 that the LGA is meant to enforce: Everleaf has been stalling on all player withdrawals for over “Let’s not understate the size of the LGA—more than 25% of all operators worldwide hold Malta licenses” three months and Purple Lounge has been offline for a month with zero player communication.
The LGA has made two minor announcements in regards to Everleaf Gaming Network (EGN): First, it imposed unspecified “sanctions” after finding some “irregularities” in its operation. Then three weeks later it assured us that Everleaf was addressing its “non-compliance.”
That was two months ago. Everleaf continues to operate with an LGA license. I’ll tell you something irregular about EGN: Most US players have been given no viable means to withdraw their funds and European players are waiting weeks for cashouts. How’s that for continued non-compliance?
With Purple Lounge, they can’t even be bothered to pretend to be doing their job. The same week that shit was hitting the purple fan, the LGA terminated their license and thus claimed to have no further responsibility in the matter. LGA failed to issue a press release on the license termination at the time and only did so after pokerfuse highlighted the fact.
The Elephant in the Room
Let’s not understate the size of the LGA and it’s significance in the industry. According to the online database at Casino City, which is one of the largest listings of online gaming companies publicly available, Malta is by far the largest jurisdiction, licensing over 600 sites—almost double that of its nearest competitor Netherlands Antilles and more than 25% of all operators in the database worldwide. In the eight jurisdictions on the UK Whitelist, the LGA regulates as many operators as all others combined.
The annual license fee is €7k, so the LGA collects over €4m a year in fees alone. It then collects 0.5% GGR up to a cap of €466k per operator. This is big business.
“If you are a player on one of its many poker rooms that hold a primary license in Malta, you must understand that the LGA kitemark offers no protection or avenue of recourse.” Along with its dirt-cheap taxation and faux-respectability, another reason it has proven popular with operators is that—according to some—players do not have to pay tax on winnings if the site is regulated in an EU jurisdiction. Malta is unique among low-tax jurisdictions to offer this. Its one of the reasons PokerStars launched dot.EU under an LGA license and required all players from Sweden and Finland to play under this license.
Thankfully, PokerStars has a history of holding itself to higher standards than its regulators require even calling on the regulator to step up its game and enforce more stringent requirements. It would be good to see Stars make similar requests in Malta. But we know the whole situation is in a real mess when an operator asks for its own regulator to tighten the rules.
Even more concerning is that the LGA is very well positioned to take advantage of European unification of gaming regulation, and it was a clear reason for PokerStars to launch their dot.EU alternative. In our coverage of the story in February, I wrote:
PokerStars clearly has one eye on a unified European poker room, and PokerStars.EU is a first step towards that goal. Currently PokerStars runs segregated player pools in Italy and France, and Spain will follow suit … and more expected to follow suit soon.
In announcing the new LGA license, Eric Hollreiser, head of Corporate Communications at PokerStars, stated that “[PokerStars] hopes and expects the future will bring more certainty and more uniformity that will help players and companies alike.”
We must also hope and expect that uniform regulation in the EU provides more player protection than the LGA, because over the last four years they clearly have no interest in protecting the players. Despite it being a cornerstone of the Maltese gaming regulations they are meant to enforce, I could find no example that the LGA revoked a license due to lack of protection of the player, or aided a player in resolving a dispute.
If you are a player on one of its many poker rooms that hold a primary license in Malta—including Betfair, Unibet, Expekt, skins of Merge Gaming and Boss Media/GTECH G2—you must understand that the LGA kitemark offers no player protections or avenue of recourse if it’s ever required.
Sites themselves are not directly to blame—there’s hardly a wealth of EU member states that offer low-tax iGaming licenses—but the rooms may wish to consider another jurisdiction like the Isle of Man if they want to give their customers piece of mind.
And if existing regulators like the LGA really want to be part of a unified gaming regulation in Europe, they should seriously reconsider their blasé approach to protecting their players.