Malta Regulators Reassess, Annul Licenses Following BetuniQ Fallout
Last week’s indictment by Italian authorities of at least 41 Mafia-linked people and the seizure of more than $2.2 billion in assets, all with strong links to Malta-regulated online gambling operations, has the Mediterranean regulatory agency scrambling to make sure that all the gaming companies linked to the Mob-run group have had their licenses yanked.
In addition, the Malta Gaming Authority is taking another look at its internal regulatory mechanisms, making sure it understands how operations such as the BetuniQ and BetSolution4U groups were able to slip through the regulatory protections the MGA already has in place, designed just to keep such organized-crime operators at bay.
The BetuniQ (Uniq Group Limited) and BetSolution4U (Betsolution4U Limited) groups’ collective gaming licenses were quickly yanked after the Italian authorities moved against the groups’ operators, alleging the direct links to the powerful Calabrian ’Ndrangheta family was behind the online-gambling groups. The operation against the group was part of a sweep targeting the Calabrian group’s operations, both inside Italy and internationally. At least 1,500 betting shops, 82 gambling websites, 56 distinct companies (including 11 foreign firms), and other property and material assets were seized.
Most of the groups’ operations were Italian-language sites offering mostly sports betting, but including casino-games and online-poker offerings as well. The group’s operators have also been linked to some live-poker-event offerings in Italy.
Several of the online operations have been linked to alleged Italian crime boss Mario Gennaro, who is associated with the ‘Ndrangheta group.
The MGA moved against BetuniQ and BetSolution4U within hours, and in the past couple of days has shuttered three more Malta-licensed operations whose executives have been linked with the Italian sweep. Soft Bet, Soft Casino and Fenplay are the three additional online-gaming groups to see their licenses yanked, with Maltese news reports linking these companies to another alleged Calabrian crime figure, Vincenzo Giuliano.
The BetUniq and BetSolution4U groups, and likely the other three groups as well, are alleged to have participated in extensive money-laundering operations.
The MGA issued an extensive update on general issues connected to their regulatory practices and safeguards, in addition to the suspension notices dealing with the five (and counting) crime-linked groups. Wrote the MGA:
“At the time of application (according to the MGA’s records), in line with standard procedures, all directors, shareholders, senior managers and ultimate beneficiary owners of these companies have been screened through MGA’s systems and protocols, using probity tools and national and international contacts and organisations. This forms part of the probity checks conducted at pre-licensing stage and before the actual business model of the gaming operation in question is screened and other control systems are checked and approved. The licensing process also includes independent audits, such as system and compliance audits which are carried out by approved external auditors.”
Added the MGA:
“It is pertinent to point out that an MGA licence does not relieve the licensee from fulfilling their obligations under the licence irrespective of where the service is provided, or from any other regulatory requirements which may be applicable in the jurisdiction where the service is actually provided [such as the holding of a licence to operate betting shops]. In this particular case, it was the Italian authorities who took action and the Maltese authorities cooperated in full on the basis of the alleged money laundering.”
The extent of any concealment mechanisms put into place by the Italy-based operators has yet to be fully revealed. The MGA has also, on its website, issued instructions for any customers who are adversely affected by the seizures and presumed closures of the sites to contact the regulatory authority to report their expected losses.
Affected customers are asked to e-mail the MGA at [email protected] and include the following info: Name and Surname; Registered Address; Date of Birth; Copy of Passport or ID Card; Telephone Number; User Name; and Screenshot of Balance or any pending Cash Outs (if not available an estimated balance is to be submitted).