Malta-Based Gaming Operators Watch as Local Financial Firms Jump Ship

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Malta was once seen as a great location from which to operate a number of industries, including gaming. It still is, to some degree, but recent reports about instability at the local level might be making some operators nervous. After the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) put the Mediterranean hot spot on its grey list, companies licensed by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) have started dropping like flies. Over the past two months, 24 financial services companies have surrendered their licenses, according to The Shift, and some gaming operators could decide to join them.

Malta Loses Status as Financial Safe Haven

The FATF put Malta on notice in the middle of June when it greylisted the country for having questionable financial oversight. Being graylisted doesn’t carry the same consequences as being blacklisted, which means a virtual shutout from dealing with FATF countries, but it damages the listed country’s reputation and makes it difficult to carry out what it otherwise perceives as standard operating procedures.

The Shift reports that 24 companies that were licensed by the FSA to provide financial services have now jumped ship since that fateful June update. 16 of those surrendered their license to operate and a handful of others surrendered their licenses tied to the operation of specific sub-funds. 19 of the companies had registered addresses in Malta, but five were reportedly international firms. Among some of those exiting are AUM Asset Management Ltd. (operator of a sub-fund) and Oceanwood Capital Management Ltd., which held an investment services license. HBM Group, which is headquartered in the Netherlands, dismantled its Malta-based HBM Malta operations completely.

The Impact on the Gaming Ecosystem

While the departure of the financial services firms is not going to have a rapid and widespread impact on the gaming space, the exit could have a ripple effect. There are over 250 gaming companies operating out of Malta, and three of the companies that are leaving provided “corporate services” to local companies. Among their responsibilities were handling tax-related issues, incorporating companies and providing accountancy services.

However, the exit alone isn’t enough to cause worry, only when considered in conjunction with the FATF crackdown. Between 2018 and 2020, 616 finance-tied companies licensed in Malta left, and that didn’t cause any major issues in the gaming industry. The difference now, though, is that the FATF is paying closer attention and Malta is increasingly coming under fire for not monitoring itself better.

Seemingly supporting the theory that gaming operators may feel pressure to alter their structures, Lino Briguglio, an economist and director of the Small States Institute of the University of Malta, told The Shift, “Undoubtedly, all this will very likely negatively affect international trade and foreign direct investment of the country in question, rendering it difficult for the same country to participate effectively in the global capital market. The reputation risk may also lead to a situation where certain companies would not want to be associated with a greylisted jurisdiction. This may already have happened in Malta.”

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