Five Italian gambling companies exit Malta following regulator probe into organised crime links

An MGA gaming probe has seen one licence suspended, one cancelled and three companies choosing to avoid scrutiny by unilaterally “terminating” their own licences

Palermo police arrested 'betting king' Benedetto Bacchi, an operation that led to the suspension of the Malta betting licences for products owned by Phoenix International Ltd.
Palermo police arrested 'betting king' Benedetto Bacchi, an operation that led to the suspension of the Malta betting licences for products owned by Phoenix International Ltd.

At least five Italian gambling companies have exited Malta following an investigation by the regulator into links to organised crime and unlicensed betting shops.

The Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) last month began an investigation into all of its licensees connected to Italy or owned by Italians in an effort to avoid further connections between Malta-licensed operators and organised crime being uncovered by Italian police.

With the inquiry now closed, one licence has been suspended, one cancelled and three companies have chosen to avoid scrutiny by unilaterally “terminating” their own licences.

The investigation was sparked by the latest batch of arrests in Italy by anti-mafia police, as part of Palermo’s “Game Over” operation.

In a comment to MaltaToday, the executive chairman of the MGA, Joseph Cuschieri, said the authority was now open to collaborate with the Italian anti-mafia commission and any other law enforcement agency “to iron out any concerns or misunderstandings in order to keep gaming free from crime.”

READ MORE Italian gaming interests becoming more high-risk

The first company blacklisted as part of the investigation was B2875, a bookmaker run by Benedetto “Ninni” Bacchi through the Malta licensee Phoenix Limited. Bacchi was the subject of Italy’s Game Over police sting and was arrested along with 30 other individuals in early February under suspicion of controlling a network of 700 illegal betting shops across the country. Phoenix Online’s licence was suspended and will be revoked following the completion of due process.

A second “cancellation” was handed down late last week to the parent company of Leaderbet, LB Casino Ltd. The operator had been named as part of the Italian Game Over investigation and operates a number of betting shops in southern Italy. The operator is now licensed in Curacao and continues to run its Italian land-based and online businesses as before.

Operators (Betent Group Ltd), Potterbet (Potter Mrc Ltd) and Giodani (Giodani Limited) have all voluntarily “surrendered” their licences.

perator Sogno di Tolosa Lt, which operates in Italy through “Betn1” branded betting shops, continues to be licensed in Malta. Betn1 said in a statement that it had “received confirmation about the compliance of its corporate policies aimed at protecting the consumer. The company is also compliant with the gaming and AML regulations of each country where the MGA product is offered.”

The suspension of Phoenix International’s licence was the fourth incident in the last 30 months that connected Italian organised crime to Malta-licensed gambling operators.

In November 2017, Italian police uncovered a network of illegal gambling sites supplied by Malta-based B2B operator Medialive Casinò.

In June 2017, prosecutors and financial police detained Italian Francesco Martiradonna, who they believed to be the real owner of Maltese gambling company CenturionBet.

In July 2015, the high profile “Operation Gambling”, based out of Reggio Calabria, saw the trial and sentencing of 30 people, the seizure of goods worth €2bn and began the saga of defendant turned whistleblower Mario Gennaro.

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