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Malta Turns to the European Court of Justice over Council of Europe’s View of Sports Betting

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Malta will seek a ruling from the European Court of Justice over the Council of Europe convention draft.

Malta is planning to turn to the European Court of Justice over the proposed controversial change in Maltese gambling laws. The decision to seek an opinion of Europe’s highest legal authority comes over the shift in definition of illegal sports betting.

Jose Herrera, the parliamentary secretary for competitiveness and economic growth, has told Maltese gambling news that a ruling from the European Court of Justice is needed on the matter. The troublesome resolution on sports competitions comes from the Council of Europe. According to the secretary the draft supplied by the Council of Europe features a definition of illegal betting, which “hinders the free movement of services within the EU.”

The essence of Council of Europe’s convention

Malta is to seek a ruling from the European Court of Justice on the new convention from the Council of Europe

• Proposed changes to Maltese gambling laws are in question

• The definition of illegal sports betting causes most trouble

• Lotteries and Gaming Authority agrees with lawmakers

The convention drafted by the Council of Europe has noble beginnings. It was created to detect, prevent and sanction manipulation of national and international sports competitions on national and transnational levels. It also aims to promote cooperation against manipulation of competitions between the authorities and the public.

Such measures are needed to keep the sports clean of match fixing, which will not only ensure the sports are fair, but that betting on them at online sportsbooks in Malta is also transparent and fair for everybody.

But Maltese authorities have problems with the initial draft supplied by the Council of Europe, it’s described as an “inappropriate encroachment into the Maltese betting industry”. The convention’s draft intends to change the definition of illegal sports betting to “any sports betting activity whose type or operator is not allowed under the applicable law of the jurisdiction where the consumer is located.”

Why are Maltese authorities concerned

Jose Herrera shared his concerns with the media: “If ratified, this would mean that licensed gaming operators in Malta would be hindered from extending their operations abroad unless they abide by the laws of the other members states.”

He went on to add: “This definition would inevitably influence Malta’s gaming sector, and consequently Malta is seeking the ruling of the ECJ because if ratified, the new definition would hinder the free movement of services.”

Should the European Court of Justice decide that the convention’s draft is not compatible with current European Union laws, especially with the free movement of services and the free market, the Council of Europe will not be able to ratify the convention, unless some serious amendments are added to it.

The parliamentary secretary stressed that Malta’s reservations are lying only with the definitions of illegal sports betting, while the objectives of the council are welcomed and supported. Herrera said that since Maltese concerns were not addressed in the convention, the country is forced to turn to the European Court of Justice for a ruling on the matter.

Malta’s Lotteries and Gaming Authority’s stance

The Lotteries and Gaming Authority of Malta has also shared its view of the matter. Their chairman, Joseph Cuschieri, called the convention’s draft “unacceptable”, due to the fact that it interferes in business and activities of those who bet on sports in Malta.

Joseph Cuschieri had the following comments: “Ever since Malta implemented rules on remote betting, in line with the laws regulating the free market an operator registered in Malta could operate across Europe with one license, that of the LGA. Since the financial crisis, countries have been intent on implementing certain license frameworks to tax these gaming operators.”

He also added: “These frameworks are basically saying that even though a gaming company has a license in Malta, it would need another license to operate across Europe. The gaming sector will not end tomorrow. We will not allow anything to interfere in Malta’s gaming sector.”

Malta is home to a large number of gambling operators targeting a variety of jurisdictions in Europe and worldwide. Losing the right to provide a legal home to such companies will most definitely have an impact on Maltese economy. This is why the desire of the country’s authorities to seek a ruling from the European Court of Justice doesn’t seem like an extraordinary thing.

Currently there is no estimate on when the ruling will be provided by the European Court of Justice, and what it will entail. One thing is sure though, the Council of Europe convention will not be ratified until a ruling is provided.

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