In the last couple of decades, online casinos have gone from being a fairly small sector to a major industry generating billions of euros in revenue every year. Europe has been a particularly successful area for the big names in the sector and growth is predicted to continue for the foreseeable future.

This increasing popularity has led many countries to revisit their legislation surrounding all forms of online gambling, with Spain being one of the most proactive.

For example, in 2020 new rules were brought in around the marketing of casinos. This included limiting TV advertising to between 1pm and 5am as well as imposing an outright ban on the use of celebrity testimonials.

The new rules

2021 has seen Spain introduce further changes in the online casinos’ legislation, in this case the purpose has been to protect the players themselves. So now anyone who wants to play online must set their own time and cash limits for a session. Once these limits have been reached their session for the day will end and they will not be able to play until the next day.

In addition, anyone who is recorded as using more than 50% of their daily limit on three consecutive occasions will receive a warning and be banned from using credit cards to play. The restrictions for players under the age of 25 are even more severe with the sanctions being applied if they exceed 25 per cent of their self-imposed limits on two consecutive occasions.

There are many questions being asked about how effective a system where players are given the responsibility to limit their gambling will be. Also, the fact that 25 has been chosen as the limit is similarly controversial as the peak age for gambling is 30. So, it might be more sensible to use this as the age after which the most severe restrictions are lifted.

The knock-on effects for Malta

The changes that have been introduced could well affect Malta, and the Maltese economy, both in positive and negative ways.

To look at the drawbacks first, any new legislation designed to limit play is always going to undermine the market’s confidence in the sector. One only has to look at the UK where share prices in companies involved in the gaming sector plunged following a government announcement that tougher regulations could be on the way. With more than 250 betting company licence-holders in Malta being listed on stock markets around the world, this sort of reaction could hurt them too.

It’s worth mentioning, at this point, just how important the sector is to the Maltese economy as a whole. Thanks to fairly liberal legislation and a comparatively light tax burden, online gambling companies have flourished. So much so that the sector is one of the largest contributors to the country’s GDP, estimated to generate around 12% of the annual €12.7 billion total and employing over 9,000 people.

If the Spanish measures work as effectively as they are intended to do, it will certainly encourage people to play less than at the current time. This, in turn, will create less demand for the products and services provided by Maltese iGaming businesses – negatively affecting their bottom line and, by association, the economy too.

However, there is a good chance that what has been bad news for Spanish players could well work in the operators’ favour. This is because there is likely to be considerable push-back against the new restrictions with many responsible online casino players quite rightly feeling that they can limit their own activity without external intervention.

So, they will be looking for online casinos where they can play as much or as little as they want and use whichever method of payment suits them best. Within mainland Europe this leads them directly to Malta where there is a plentiful choice of online casinos and relatively few restrictions.

More changes on the way?

Of course, that’s not to say that the country won’t also at some point introduce new legislation itself, just as it has done in 2021 for the financial services industry. But, given the government’s track record and pragmatic approach, any new regulations are likely to include a relatively light touch. This will most likely leave a great deal up to players’ own discretion and rely on operators for continuing self-regulation.

At the present time, this is all conjecture and we will just have to wait and see what the effects of the new Spanish rules will be. But, on balance, it may be shaping up to be very good news for Malta.

Disclaimer: Play responsibly. Players must be over 18. For help visit https://www.gamcare.org.uk/

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