Italian online betting operators gave up their Maltese licences in the wake of investigations into possible Mafia and organised crime connections, the Times of Malta is informed.
At least five companies are known to have left Malta’s gaming jurisdiction, regulated by the Malta Gaming Authority, which is looking into Italian media reports about suspected links between Italian organised crime and online betting companies licensed in Malta.
The Times of Malta was told that two Italian operators whose companies were registered in Malta had their licences revoked by the MGA after they were recently mentioned in an Italian anti-Mafia police probe.
Three more companies surrendered their Maltese licences and now operate with licences from Curacao, in the Caribbean.
Gaming industry sources named B2875, a company run by Benedetto ‘Ninni’ Bacchi, through its Malta licensee Phoenix Ltd, and Leaderbet as the two operators that had their licences withdrawn by the MGA.
According to Italian anti-Mafia investigators both companies were allegedly found to be using their Malta-based operations to launder money originating from illegal and criminal activities in Italy.
The sources said that Betent.com, operated by Betent Group Ltd, Potterbet, belonging to Potter Mrc Ltd, and Giordani, owned by Giordani Limited, returned their licences voluntarily after receiving requests for information from the MGA.
The industry sources noted that after reports associating Malta with Italian operators using the island as a money-laundering platform, the MGA “seems to have put its act together to clean up the industry from unwanted and dodgy business”.
“This is a step in the right direction, and we hope this is not just a media stunt. It should continue because the island cannot afford a bad reputation, particularly as the industry’s contribution to the economy increased dramatically over the past years,” the sources added.
The Times of Malta reported late last year that an anti-Mafia investigation in Palermo had uncovered plans by various Mafia clans to relocate their underground activities using online gaming companies in Malta.
A series of police raids in Palermo led to the arrest of about 25 suspects in connection with the infiltration of the Mafia in horse races in the Sicilian capital.
Salvatore de Luca, Palermo’s chief anti-Mafia prosecutor, said it was established that Mafia bosses were planning to shift their illicit operations to Malta, as “it was becoming riskier to continue with their illegal activities based on extortion”.
According to Dr de Luca, “the Mafia bosses, particularly the clans of Resuttana-San Lorenzo, were putting in place a structured plan to translocate their illegal activities to Malta’s online gaming industry”.
The Palermo anti-Mafia investigations started weeks after seven people were arrested in northern Italy in connection with a multimillion-euro online gambling racket allegedly involving parlours across Italy that were directly connected to a server hosted by Medialive Ltd, based in Qormi.
The MGA strongly denied any connections between Malta’s gaming industry and the Mafia and called the reports sensational.
Asked for a reaction an MGA spokesman confirmed the status of the five Italian operators but failed to give other details on their action.
“The review of licences is triggered by various factors underpinned by our approach to risk,” the spokesman said.
“The outcome is then assessed in the light of law, and enforcement action may only be taken if regulatory breaches are identified.
“We are bound by law not to disclose sensitive information about our licensees with the public, particularly any reasons for the surrender of licences.”