peaking during the first parliamentary sitting after the summer recess, Fenech outlined various actions under the Lotteries and Other Games (Amendment) Bill. Licences would be issued for periods of 12 months, renewable only if there were no pending court proceedings against the owner at the time of renewal.
He said there were diverse opinions on what sort of gaming was to be tolerated in Malta. Gaming had always been present and tolerated in Maltese society, even though many, like him, continued to be against gaming. It was better to regulate than prohibit gaming activity.
Malta was the only EU country that had introduced regulations to remote gaming, a sector that provided 2,500 jobs. The government would be legislating so that everyone would act responsibly. This meant that gaming was open to adults who were conscious of what they were doing. The Bill aimed at protecting minors and other vulnerable people against compulsive gambling.
Fenech emphasised that regulation did not amount to liberalisation. The government did not want to create a situation where every town or village would have its own casino. Gaming outlets would be monitored by the relevant authorities to ensure that this activity was conducted fairly. It would set standards aimed also at eliminating any criminal or money-laundering activity. Heavy fines would be imposed on those infringing the regulations. The gaming authority would have more powers and human resources to enforce regulations.
Proceeds from gaming activities were to be on a different level from those offered in casinos.
Fenech said there needed to be a clear distinction between gaming and entertainment or amusement machines. Only three types of gaming or amusement machines would be allowed, which would be licensed for use in places where only gaming was allowed. No other activity could take place in these outlets and operators would have to observe a code of conduct.
Manufacturers of amusement machines, suppliers to the market and the places hosting amusement machines would also require licences. These would not be subject to those restrictions which applied to gaming machines.
The Lotteries and Gaming Authority would retain the right to object to the issue of a licence, and also to the renewal of a licence, on justifiable grounds and following due diligence procedures. Simulators, skill games and video games would not be restricted in the same manner as gaming machines. But gaming machines were not to receive stakes of more than €2, while billiard tables and similar games would only be able to accept a €1 coin. Neither could accept paper money.
Fenech said amusement games would not give out coupons which could later be exchanged for prizes. Amusement machine operators could not give any reward to players, not even in the form of soft toys or sweets, as this developed the culture of gaming for profit. The designation of a machine as an amusement or gaming machine would initially depend on the assessment of the Lotteries and Gaming Authority.
Regulations for gaming would aim at trying to provide a level playing field, even though current licences were to be respected. The Bill proposed that players would only be able to access gaming machines at the age of 18, while the age of 25 for entrance to casinos would be retained. This age restriction would also apply to lotteries such as those provided by Maltco as soon as the licence of Maltco expired in a year or two.
LGA inspectors would be given access rights to gaming premises. Monetary penalties were being increased and illegal machines would also be subject to destruction. The authority would be given the right to directly participate in judicial proceedings on gaming issues.
A share of the revenue from such gaming would be used to campaign in favour of responsible gaming and also by youth associations.
In general, the Bill would regulate the place of gaming, the gaming machines themselves and persons who could enter such places. It also sought to safeguard the players.
The minister said the definition of a gaming machine was not being restricted to specific and identified devices but would be wide-ranging. This was purposely being done so as to encompass a variety of machines, putting the onus on the authority to determine whether a machine presented to it was a gaming machine or an amusement machine.
Operators would be able to seek to obtain four different licences. Machines would be sealed by the authority and those who manufactured, repaired and serviced such machines would require a licence. The suppliers and distributors of gaming machines, as well as operators of gaming places, would also require licences.
Gaming places would not be licensed if these were situated close to schools. If, after the issue of a licence, the government were to decide to open a school nearby, the operator would have to move his operation. Moreover, premises must be restricted to offer gaming services exclusively. Band clubs would not be allowed to retain gaming machines; nor would the gaming premises offer any other commercial activity, including the serving of food whether at a price or not.
Minister Fenech said the maximum number of machines available at gaming premises must not exceed 10, with each game having at least a two-square-metre periphery. Gaming premises could not be in the vicinity of educational centres, such as football grounds or schools or any other place which offered education to children. Neither could these places be in the vicinity of places of worship. Such premises would need to move out from the village core and move to the periphery.
Gaming places would also need to register the personal details of all players. Operators must also implement the self-baring procedure. Any violation of these two regulations would be considered to be the gravest violation and would be severely penalised.
Such premises would also require CCTV monitoring which would be stored for 60 days. If any CCTV camera was not functioning it must be notified to the authority so as to ensure strict supervision and implementation. The authority and the police would have access to such footage.
Gaming places would not be open to the public for 24 hours but could only open between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., even if found within tourist areas. Gaming machines were to provide an average of 85 per cent reward. The playing of more than €2,000 in gaming places would need to be reported for the purpose of money-laundering monitoring. Operators would also be asked to submit a guarantee which would be withdrawn immediately by the authority upon the violation of any one of the regulations.
Fenech said employees in gaming places would also be licensed by the authority, and would receive training as to their responsibilities and the relevant code of ethics. A code of practice to regulate sponsorship and advertising by gaming operators would be drawn up. Internet cafés offering internet gaming would also be subjected to licensing procedures.