Malta: German, Austrian lawyers insist that new gaming bill will disregard courts’ independence

A Bill tabled in Parliament to amend Malta’s Gaming Act is “attempting to circumvent court orders in a blatant disregard for the independence of the judiciary” lawyers from Germany and Austria are claiming.

An Austrian law firm and a German lawyer have said that the government is “attempting to stop Maltese-licensed gaming companies from paying back the millions they have illegally appropriated from players” located in Germany and Austria.

The government meanwhile is insisting that all it is doing is giving gaming operators assurances against “unfounded” challenges in court.

The lawyers have already written to the European Commission over the proposed Bill, and accused Malta of undermining the rule of law through it.

The lawyers said in a letter some days ago that their clients are being awarded final and definitive judgements from the Austrian and German courts against Maltese gaming companies, whereby those companies are being ordered to pay all the money they deposit and lose on Maltese sites back to the clients.

This is because “they are offering these games illegally and making an unjustified enrichment over our clients,” the letter reads.

The Bill in question – Bill 55 – which went through its first reading in Parliament on 24 April, was described by the lawyers as “attempt by the Government of the Republic of Malta to blatantly undermine European Rule of Law by blocking the fundamental rights of EU Citizens and Residents.”

The letter accuses the government of wanting to introduce provisions in Maltese law which would prevent Maltese courts from enforcing sentences handed down against Maltese gaming companies in foreign jurisdictions.

Government Response

When alerted to these claims, the Ministry for the Economy, European Funds, and Lands told The Malta Independent that “the Government of Malta has long been committed to protect the status of the Malta Gaming sector and the Maltese licence.”

“The regulatory standards in Malta in this regard are second to none and respect the fundamental freedoms afforded to every individual and establishments in the European Union; including the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services.”

“In the absence of harmonisation of regulation of this service, the Government has given regulated operators the necessary assurance against unfounded challenges, as a matter of public order for the country. The Bill is solely intended to enshrine this approach in law,” it concluded.

Lawyers’ Response

With reference to the government’s response, the lawyers told The Malta Independent that the lack of harmonisation at EU level relates solely and exclusively to the manner in which the gaming licences are issued by each and every EU Member State.

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