Tonio Fenech at the Malta iGaming Seminar

MEDIA ROOM

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning.

It is a privilege for me to be opening the second edition of the Malta i-Gaming Seminar. It gives me great satisfaction to see such an event being organised by the Maltese Remote Gaming industry, for the Remote Gaming Industry. Such an initiative demonstrates the vitality and entrepreneurship of the Maltese gaming sector licensees and the industry’s service providers. This yet again demonstrates that Malta’s strategy in strengthening the gaming sector has been successful, with an industry which is vibrant and not at all passive.

Over these two days, the Malta iGaming Seminar shall provide a focal point of discussion, debate and opinions on the developments currently taking place in the remote gaming industry, with a special focus on our Islands. As you very well know, since 2004 when Malta joined the EU, we have built on our membership by developing robust systems to monitor and supervise operations.

We were the first EU Member State to adopt specific regulations for remote gaming, in line with the EU Treaties. We not only looked at having a strong remote gaming regulatory framework, but as part of our regulatory approach, we also placed special care in ensuring that the principles of other key European directives, such as the third Anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism funding directive were implemented in our regulatory approach.

We are regarded as being one of the main international hubs that regulates remote gaming effectively and responsibly. In the past six years, we have become a benchmark of how iGaming should be regulated and the result of such a serious approach is highlighted by the fact that we have become the jurisdiction of choice for the industry, a jurisdiction which believes that all stakeholders have a role to play in, both in maintaining it as well as develop it further in the years to come. It is essential, even critical, for the survival of this industry, that we continue regulating effectively, whilst always adopting the principles of responsible gaming, which include the protection of minors and vulnerable persons, and making sure that the industry is kept free from crime and exploitation of players.

Malta has embraced the online gaming revolution with vigour and vision whilst offering one of the most modern environments in Europe for online gaming activities. The LGA played a key role in such a revolution, whereby now Malta is home to more than 250 remote gaming companies, holding over 350 licenses. In this context, I would like to thank the Lotteries and Gaming Authority for its efforts and contribution to the growth and development of this industry on our shores.

Although these numbers are remarkable, we have also shown that we are an effective regulating jurisdiction and not simply a licensing office. As a regulatory body, the LGA performs continuous compliance, monitoring and operator checks, and it takes the administrative action were necessary. Since its inception, it has not, and will continue to not shy away from taking the tough decisions such as terminating licenses.

Over the past twelve months, 30 licenses were terminated. Such terminations make sure that we are safeguarding the value of the licenses which other serious operators like yourselves have worked hard to obtain, and keep on working hard to maintain. Maintaining a license from our jurisdiction means that operators are keeping themselves in line with the highest remote gaming standards that exist within both the European Union as well as beyond its borders.

Ultimately, this is a sector which provides services to its clients and therefore, as any other sector which involves dealing with people’s money, knows that consumer trust can make or break a business. In a virtual environment, with intangible geographic boundaries, customers want to feel adequately safeguarded before parting with their money.

As I already mentioned, reaching the position we are in today was not easy, but as in anything else, maintaining one’s position is much harder. The developments on the EU front, makes things look a bit more challenging.

I can assure you that government, together with the LGA and our Permanent Representation in Brussels are not only monitoring these developments, but also being present and making the necessary representations, when and as required. As you surely know, the Commission’s Internal Market Commissioner, Mr Barnier, has mentioned that he wants to publish a Green Paper on remote gaming. We believe that this is positive for the industry. We believe that regulating effectively is key, whereas prohibition will only shift the problems to areas which are very difficult to control. We are not against competition, but we cannot accept that the very principles of the EU Treaty are jeopardized by the restrictions which are being proposed by some member states.

Once again, all stakeholders have a role to play in making sure that this Green Paper is issued. We need to continue to show that Governments should promote serious regulation that operators want to be licensed in a serious jurisdiction and that players want to be entertained via those operators which conduct their business in a serious and fair fashion.

Of course, Malta’s strong regulatory regime was not the only ingredient which induced gaming operators to invest and feel comfortable in operating from Malta. Over the past decade, we have worked hard on a national level to implement a proactive looking strategy to establish the fundamental pre-requisites to be amongst the world leaders in the information society. Malta swiftly embraced the e-revolution and invested heavily to place Malta as an e-society in possible way.

To do so, we facilitated investment in technology infrastructure, whereby Malta is now connected to mainland Europe through three different service providers, using four sub-marine cables. In this context, I commend the private sector for contributing substantially to this investment. Only two days ago, one of the major Maltese telecommunications companies, (Vodafone Malta), has announced the investment of €50 million over the next five years on the upgrading of its communications infrastructure and services

We invested heavily in our educational system at all levels, starting from primary schools which are equipped with broadband in each class; to the tertiary levels, with the University of Malta and other colleges, academies and institutes offering an incredibly wide array of information technology related studies. Today we are appreciating the key historic investment decision, taken back in the early Nineties to place a personal computer in every classroom of our schools. We invested heavily in eGovernment Services, whereby Malta has been ranked at the top of a special EU ranking with respect to eGovernment Services offered to both citizens and the business community.

We invested heavily in promoting the eBusiness environment and Malta’s ranking in relationship to its European partners with regards to the facility of setting up new businesses is highly competitive. These are all elements that contribute in their way to the successes being achieved by our country. Such a forward looking approach was, and will, continue to be the philosophy which guides our actions.

The Malta iGaming Seminar 2010 shall allow for two full days to go through all the shifts occurring around us, and consequently I shall not take more time from what I believe, will be very interesting debates, of which I will then look forward to hear about the outcomes. I thank you once again for inviting me to open this seminar.