News 19th August 2015

Malta withdraws request for opinion on definition of ‘illegal sports betting’

Malta has reportedly requested the withdrawal of its request for an opinion from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as to whether the Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions is compatible with EU Treaties. Malta’s Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness and Economic Growth, Jose Herrera, had last month announced that Malta would be seeking a formal opinion on whether the definition of ‘illegal sports betting’ in the draft Convention was incompatible with EU Treaties, namely those granting the free movement of services and the free market. However Malta has reportedly now withdrawn the request after examining a new legislative proposal being discussed in Council, which has prompted Malta to consider ‘that other solutions may be available to it.’

Under Article 218(11) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, ‘A Member State, the European Parliament, the Council or the Commission may obtain the opinion of the Court of Justice as to whether an agreement envisaged is compatible with the Treaties. Where the opinion of the Court is adverse, the agreement envisaged may not enter into force unless it is amended or the Treaties are revised.’ In July, Herrera reportedly argued that definition of ‘illegal sports betting’ in the draft convention was an ‘inappropriate encroachment into the Maltese betting industry’.

The draft Convention defines ‘illegal sports betting’ as ‘any sports betting activity whose type or operator is not allowed under the applicable law of the jurisdiction where the consumer is located.’ The Convention’s purpose is ‘to combat the manipulation of sports competitions in order to protect the integrity of sport and sports ethics’ through EU state-wide cooperation. However according to the local newspaper Malta Today, Herrera claimed that the Convention could become an ‘inappropriate encroachment into the Maltese betting industry.’

‘Malta’s position on the Convention has always been made very clear and remains unchanged,’ Herrera told Malta Today. ‘Malta has maintained that it fully supports the main objective of the Convention to prevent the manipulation of sports competitions. In fact, Malta is currently undergoing an exercise to ensure the implementation of stricter rules and systems to suppress fraud and manipulation in sports.

‘However, Malta has consistently reiterated its concerns on the definition of ‘illegal sports betting’ which goes beyond the scope of the Convention and does not contribute to the fight against match fixing. Malta tabled various proposals for amendment throughout the discussions on the Convention and following the rejection of all such proposals, was compelled to vote against its adoption. Consequently, we did not sign the Convention when it was opened for signature in September 2014.’

However, with the development of a new legislative proposal being discussed in Council, Herrera told local news outlets that it would be ‘more appropriate’ for Malta to ‘try to achieve an acceptable state of affairs for Malta through deeper dialogue at the European level.’

Chairman of the Lotteries and Gaming Authority of Malta (LGA), Joseph Cuschieri, criticised the original Convention. Cuschieri reportedly said that the unamended legislation meant that even though a gaming company had a legitimate licence in Malta, it would need another licence to operate across Europe. This, he said, was against the laws regulating the free market in which an operator registered in Malta could operate across Europe with one licence – that of the LGA.

According to The Malta Independent, Malta will now continue to hold discussions at the highest levels within the EU to ‘safeguard its position’ during the following months.

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