New gaming machine amendments proposed: A tall order
Amendments to the Lotteries and Other Games Act were presented by Finance Minister Tonio Fenech last Monday evening during the first sitting of the House of Representatives after the summer recess.
In general, the amendments 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 definition of a gaming machine is not being restricted to specific and identified devices but is wide-ranging.
This was purposely being done so as to encompass a variety of machines, putting the onus on the LGA 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 LGA 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, 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.
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 are 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.
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.
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.
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 Lotteries and Gaming Authority (LGA), as the regulator of gaming in Malta, would have more powers and human resources to enforce regulations.
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 LGA 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 are 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.
Amusement games would not give out coupons which could later be exchanged for prizes.
Amusement machine operators cannot 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 LGA.
Regulations for gaming would aim at trying to provide a level playing field, even though current licences are 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 are being increased and illegal machines would also be subject to destruction.
The LGA 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.