German concerns on the cross-border impact of upcoming amendments to Maltese gambling legislation, known as ‘Gaming Bill 55’, have been echoed by Dutch stakeholders.
In a letter to Dutch Minister for Legal Protections, Franc Weerwind, Loonstein Advocaten lawyer Benzi Loonstein shared his firm’s views on Gaming Bill 55. The Bill will prevent enforcement action from national authorities against businesses licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA).
As numerous operators and suppliers active across various markets are licensed with the MGA, the change to the island’s legislative framework has prompted criticism from European counterparts stating that Malta’s government is protecting its igaming sector from foreign accountability.
The most recent condemnation from the Netherlands saw Loonstein accuse Bill 55 of contravening EU law, a sentiment already expressed by Austrian and German stakeholders, including the latter’s federal regulator, the Gluecksspiel (GGL).
In his letter, Loonstein reiterated that Bill 55 ‘goes against European laws and treaties’ concerning enforcement and judgement of civil and commercial matters, also accusing Malta’s government of changing laws ‘in a non-transparent way’.
“With this law, Malta actually wants to undermine Dutch jurisprudence (and that of other EU member states),” Loonstein asserted.
“The law is nothing more or less than a response to consumers’ choice to seek justice in their place of residence; a right guaranteed in EU treaties.
“As a result of the law, the Dutch court would no longer be able to rule in disputes of Dutch consumers against these companies from Malta.”
Following re-regulation under the KOA Act in late 2021, the Netherlands’ online betting market was relaunched with an initial 10 operators. Any firms previously active in the market were required to reapply for licences with the Gambling Authority, the KSA.
In this context, Malta’s amendments to its Gambling Act will contravene the KSA’s own efforts to enforce compliance with Dutch gambling laws and clamp down on unlicensed operators acting illegally within the market, Loonstein explained.
Last week, Malta responded to criticism of its regulatory actions, in which it stated that it would only enforce Bill-55 protections within two specific circumstances.
Bill-55 protections will be utilised if Malta views that an international enforcement action “conflicts with/or undermines the provision of gaming services in Malta”.
Further protections will be offered if Malta courts deem that a licensed business has acted lawfully under the terms of Malta’s Gambling Act.
Malta’s government and the MGA believe that the Bill-55 provisions are “accurate and transparent”, whilst remaining compliant with EU-wide laws on the freedom to provide business services as one of the central principles of the European constitution.
These are if overseas regulatory enforcement ‘conflicts with or undermines the provision of gaming services in Malta’ or if the company’s own actions were compliant with Maltese law.
However, the regulator’s response to Austrian and German concerns have clearly not dampened criticism of the regulation, as Loonstein and other Loonstein Advocaten lawyers upheld harsh criticisms.
Loonstein Advocaten stated that it is writing to Minister Weerwind on behalf of complainants against Maltese gambling firms, adding that up to 500,000 Dutch citizens may have been affected by the actions of MGA-licensed companies.
The letter concluded: “We call on the Dutch government to stand up for the interests of this group of Dutch people and to ensure (via the European Commission) that Malta does not continue with the contempt of the Rule of law enshrined in the EU treaties.
“We also appeal to the government to ensure that companies that do not respect Dutch judgments lose their permits and/or are no longer eligible for a permit.”