Six companies have so far registered their interest in running the Dragonara Casino in St Julians for the next 10 years, as the time allocated for submissions closes today at noon.
Government sources have confirmed that the current operators Dragonara Casino Limited have renewed their bid to continue running the Casino, while other bidders include Tumas Group, who currently run 50 per cent of the casino market; and Pinnacle, operators of Fairplay gaming halls and who are currently in a wrangle with government over the recent closures of gaming halls around the island.
The bidders have all paid up a deposit of €10,000 for their submissions to MIMCOL and will be expected to give a full presentation of their offers to government once the bid is closed today.
Earlier this year, government had reached an agreement with the current operators to keep the operation running until January 2010, and has also included the condition that who takes the concession will be obliged to keep all the present 225 employees.
The issue surrounding the Dragonara Casino bid is considered to be very sensitive, given that the current and even some of the prospective bidders have been lobbying for fair competition, given the registered losses in casino revenues due to the proliferation of gaming halls around the island.
Dragonara Casino Limited and Tumas Group had insisted with government that gaming halls were unregulated and a cause for concern for the profitability and the very existence of casinos on the island since the gaming halls operated the same slot machines used in casinos without restrictions.
Fairplay being one of Malta’s biggest gaming hall operators has registered its interest in taking over the Dragonara Casino, and Pinnacle - its holding company – is currently challenging government over the closure of its halls.
The finance ministry is currently working on introducing new legislation to regulate gaming halls.
Casino operators have expressed their concerns that without a reformed legislation, all gaming halls will be reopened as quickly as they did last time when police clamped down on them three years ago.
“Unfortunately we have no confidence in government’s statements regarding new legislation. They have been making similar statements for the last four years,” said a senior source in the gaming industry, adding that operators question the timing of this clampdown so close to the response for the RFP deadline today.
The issue on gaming halls becomes even more complex when one considers the content of the judicial protests filed in Court this week by the gaming hall operators.
Six gaming companies have claimed that machines seized last week by the police matched the gaming authority’s own specifications.
The companies filed a judicial protest against the Police Commissioner, the Lotteries and Gaming Authority and the Attorney General following a series of police raids on gaming establishments.
Gaming Operations Ltd, Media Games Malta (EU) Ltd, Zammit Videomatic Co. Ltd, Laak Ltd, Vanguard Gaming Ltd and Best Play Gaming Ltd said they had been holding talks with the authority for the past three years on the importation of sophisticated gaming machines.
These machines, they said, made use of IT systems which permitted the authority, as the regulator, to have direct access to them. The authority could thus remotely monitor their operation and the money which they generated, and charge tax accordingly.
The specifications which the machines had to meet were imposed by the authority during the talks, which were the prelude to a legal notice issued to regulate the operation of these machines.
In virtue of the talks and on the suggestion of the authority itself, the companies said they had invested millions of euro in the importation of the machines since they conformed to the law which was to come into force and the specifications laid down by the authority.
The authority had subsequently given them a temporary permit during which system tests were carried out on the machines.
Yet, without prior notice from the authority or the Commissioner of Police, police officers over the past few days had seized such machines, the companies said.
They added that they were suffering damages as a result of the police action and were holding the police and the authority liable for damages.
Lawyers Gianella Caruana Curran, Stephen Tonna Lowell, Kris Busietta and Patrick Valentino signed the protest.