Malta gambling sector records growth but economic contribution slips

The Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) has revealed that the country’s gambling sector has recorded one of its highest growth rates in value added relative to other sectors, but is now making less of a contribution to the island’s economy.

As detailed in the MGA’s Annual Report and audited Financial Statements for the financial year ending December 31, 2020,  the country’s gambling sector experienced a growth rate of 15.3% to a total valuation of €924 million. 

However, this means that the sector is no longer placed within the top three contributors with regards to economic value.

Despite this, the MGA noted that 2020 had been an “exceptional year” where the total economy value added by 4.3%, whilst the gambling sector recorded impressive growth, and still accounts for 8% of the country’s total economic value.

Additional figures show that at the end of the year the number of companies licensed by the MGA, including both online and land-based entities, stood at 323, holding a total of 328 gaming licences and 357 game type approvals to offer various types of games under the B2C licence. 

During the 12-months, the MGA collected a total of €73.5 million in terms of compliance contribution fees, levies, and consumption tax. It has been estimated that as at the end of 2020, the gaming industry directly generated almost 8,300 jobs in FTE terms, with 91.1% of these employees engaged in the online sector. 

Furthermore, the number of Maltese-registered gaming companies offering online products increased from 284 in 2019 to 314 in 2020, whilst the number of active player accounts registered on Malta-licenced websites rose by 18.1% to 36.2 million.

Alongside player accounts, the estimated number of new active player accounts stood at 15.9 million, reflecting a 15.5% year-on-year growth.

In 2020, the report noted that the MGA received a total of 58 applications for gaming licences whilst 68 licences were issued. Moreover, 20 gaming applications were either rejected by the MGA or withdrawn by the applicants with the Authority cancelling 12 licences and suspending another three due to various regulatory breaches. 

The financial and business impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were also noted in the report, with all land-based casinos in the territory ordered to temporarily close in March 2020 under the terms of the Legal Notice 76 of 2020, entitled Closure of Places Open to the Public Order 2020.

From 5 June 2020 casinos were permitted to reopen, but the closures negatively impacted new player registrations, with a reported 55,676 registrations into the four-land based casinos – Dragonara Casino, Portomaso Casino, Casino Malta and Oracle Casino – compared to the 175,433 registrations in 2019.

Furthermore, despite the reopening of the land-based sector, the report revealed that growth in the number of active online players continued at “very much the same pace of earlier years”. 

Dr Carl Brincat, CEO of the MGA, remarked: “The year 2020 will undoubtedly be remembered for the challenges the pandemic presented us with, and I am proud of the Authority’s employees who worked tirelessly to ensure that we continued to perform the functions required of us at law. 

“Keeping the ship steady during a challenging year 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.”

Lastly, with regards to compliance and legality, a total of 69 warnings were issued by the Authority whilst three licences were suspended and 12 cancelled. 

In addition, 30 compliance audits were conducted by the MGA’s Compliance and AML departments, as well as 324 desktop reviews identifying 98 deficiencies, which were subsequently reported to the Compliance and Enforcement Committee.

Lastly, 1,475 criminal probity screening checks were undertaken – an increase of 13.% on the previous year – and eight individuals and companies were deemed by the Fit & Proper Committee to not up to the MGA’s probity standards, mainly with regards of money laundering of terrorism funding regulations. 

The publishing of these statistics closely follows the greylisting of Malta as a potentially financially untrustworthy territory classed as having “strategic deficiencies” by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – the AML and anti-terrorist financing arm of the G7.

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