Malta i-Gaming Seminar 2014 – By Warwick Bartlett from GBGC

I am often asked what are the best conferences to attend. Not an easy question to answer given how many there is and what suits one section of the industry does not suit another.

This year I attended MIGS at the Hilton Hotel, Malta. The venue is great, the bedrooms are spacious, three restaurants, awesome breakfast, and courteous and helpful staff. So we are off to a good start!

The conference is well organized with good speakers and if I may say a polite audience who attend every session. There is no graveyard shift for speakers.

I estimated about 400 delegates which is quite a lot given the number of conferences these days, generally most companies are cutting back on conference attendances. Cost to travel, food and beverage, and ticket price all add up to about £2,000 per delegate in some instances, and if it’s transatlantic even more.

The keynote was delivered by my old acquaintance Declan Hill. He came to see me just as he was starting out on his research into match fixing. He has now produced a book on the subject and is regarded as the number one authority on the subject.

Reassuringly he said anyone wanting to fix matches in the major European countries is ‘nuts’. So the reporting procedures put in place by bookmakers through ESSA are bearing fruit.

I was less re-assured to hear that match fixing was not all about players and referees. It would seem that corruption in football goes right to the top, with match-fixers claiming that the heads of various countries’ sports authorities are themselves corrupt and in on the fix. Declan’s book, The Insider Guide to Match Fixing is definitely worth a read if you are involved in sports betting.

I served my time on the poker panel. The question put by conference to the panel was ‘Is poker dead or not reaching its full potential?’ Alongside me on the panel were Steve McLaughlin from Poker Tracker, David Jung from Hero Poker, and Nicolas Levi from Ranking Hero.

They were not enthusiastic about the future with some saying it was absolutely dying. I did express caution stating that one company managed to produce US$1.1m in revenue with US$400m in profit. But the guys were having none of it. PokerStars they said had changed the T&C’s and players were not happy with that. But they acknowledged no one else comes close to what PokerStars has to offer in terms of liquidity.

Executive Chairman of the LGA Joeseph Cuschieri said Malta’s success was no accident – it was achieved through careful strategic planning. The stated intention was to increase protection in the regulatory framework. 97% of gamblers have no problem with gambling at all but Malta takes problem gambling seriously and will provide assistance to problem gamblers.

Mr Cuschieri said there was a lack of political will in the EU to enact free movement of goods and services and even more barriers to trade were being erected.

Malta is a major igaming success story. In 2013 they had issued 321 licenses and this has grown to 401 in 2014. The number of companies operating on Malta has risen from 220 to 258.

The LGA has identified the UK’s Point of Consumption Tax and changes to VAT as major problems. However Malta is confident enough to be changing the curriculum in schools to produce students that are more aligned with the needs of the e-commerce industry.

Internet gambling has become a very important part of the Maltese economy. People told me it was now larger than the financial services sector and forty percent of residential lettings were to the i-gaming industry.

There is a sense of vibrancy on the Malta i-gaming scene that is not so noticeable in other jurisdictions. I put this down to the fact that, from the beginning, one of the licence conditions was that companies had to put their back office in Malta. So there are many young people working in, or associated with, i-gaming.

As most of the companies are smaller than those that we see in Gibraltar they are more entrepreneurial in outlook. Very often these days at conferences we see lots of lawyers, corporate service providers, payment solution companies and few gambling operators. MIGS was a welcome change to that and is on my conference list for next year.

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