A guide to poker in Malta

Malta has long been a prime Mediterranean hotspot for holidaymakers looking for a relaxed break in the sun that offers something for everyone... but there's more

Malta has long been a prime Mediterranean hotspot for holidaymakers looking for a relaxed break in the sun that offers something for everyone. That’s why every year around 2.6 million visitors, primarily from other European countries, descend on the island. In doing so, they contribute an estimated €2.1 billion to the national economy.

One of the reasons that the island is so very popular is the sheer range of entertainment and activities that are available. Naturally, there are the beautiful beaches that encircle the island making it a favourite for anyone who enjoys water-sports like paragliding or windsurfing. Malta’s strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean means that it has been occupied at various time by the Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians and even the Normans. So there is a rich cultural history to explore, for example by visiting the Museum of Archaeology in Valetta.

It is also very well known for its nightlife and this has increasingly attracted visitors keen to test out their poker skills at one of the casinos on the island.

Malta’s poker rooms

There are four of these in all. They are located in St Julian’s, the popular resort a little to the north of Valetta.

The one that claims to have the biggest, and most popular, poker room on the island is the Portomaso Casino that is right in the heart of the resort. For players looking for tournament action, the good news is that these are held daily, with two on a Saturday. Buy-ins range from around €30 to €100. For those wanting to play more for fun, there are also all the cash poker games that you’d expect with stakes from €1 upwards. They’re also well-known for holding various different poker events each month.

For players who like their poker action to come with a view, there’s the Dragonara Casino. Situated overlooking the beautiful St. George’s Bay, this provides the perfect backdrop for its daily tournaments and cash games that go on well into the early hours of the morning. If anything, the buy-ins for the tournaments are slightly lower than at the Portomaso, with correspondingly smaller prize pots. Having said this, it’s no stranger to the big event, in the past having played host to a number of these including the 2018 Redbet Live Tour.

An altogether lower profile venue is the Oracle Casino near St. Paul’s Bay. It forms part of the Dolmen Hotel so players tend to include many of the guests who are staying there. Of all the casinos offering live poker, this is probably the lowest-key and most relaxed venue. This means you’re unlikely to find many high rollers heading for its tables.

To track these sorts of players down, the best bet might be to head for Casino Malta in the Intercontinental Hotel in St. Julian’s. This fast gaining a reputation for being the place to play thanks to the number of high-profile tournaments that it is starting to hold. These include both the Unibet Open and the Unibet Deepstack Open which attract first class players from Europe and beyond.

The Battle of Malta goes from strength to strength

It also plays host to the Battle of Malta, an annual event sponsored in recent years by the online poker giant 888 poker. So great is the event’s appeal that it now has to be held in the Intercontinental’s huge 3,000 square metre Eden conference centre and arena. This allows plenty of space for the 140 tables required for the tournament.

First held back in 2012 when the winner from the 349 entrants was Nicodemo Piccolo taking home €35,000 from a prize pool of €169,264, the tournament has seen phenomenal growth. By 2016 there were 1,800 entrants competing for a share in €875,000 and in 2019 Serghei Lisii beat 4,657 other entrants to take home €247,161.

The event is run over seven days each October with a total of nine different tournaments. The game is no limit hold’em and the biggest of the tournaments is the €500 + €55 Battle of Malta Main Event.

The BoM, as it’s affectionately known, was first proposed to be for low to mid-stakes players and the organisers have stuck to the original principles. But with an ever-increasing number of players, there’s no doubt that it’s becoming more and more competitive as the years go on.

Another attraction is the high-profile names who often turn up and in the past these have included tennis legends Boris Becker and Patrik Antonius. There’s also a chance, each year, to watch all the action on the official website via a live-stream.

The perfect environment

Malta’s role in the world of poker has undoubtedly been enhanced by the government’s general attitude to gambling. Thanks to its tax laws and attitude to regulation, a great many online gambling organisations have located their headquarters on the island. This, in turn, has attracted many other ancillary and service companies too, such as ones that create the software for their online poker sites.

In terms of the laws governing live poker, these are among the most liberal in the world, certainly when compared with other countries such as the US where the game is banned completely in some of the more hard-line States.

So,looking to the future, there is every reason to suppose that more and more poker-playing opportunities will arise in Malta both for fans of the live and the online game. And that will be good news both for Malta and the many players the games are sure to attract.