The Extraordinary Story of How the Italian Mob turned Malta into a Virtual ATM

18 May 2018, by Shihaam Isaacs

The Extraordinary Story of How the Italian Mob turned Malta into a Virtual ATM

The tiny island of Malta, nestled in the middle of the Mediterranean has had a long history of rulers including the Romans, Moors, the Knights of Saint John, the French, and lastly, the British. Today, however, Malta is ruled by an entirely new empire, the online casino empire. Known locally as the “invisible casinos”, remote gambling has become the island’s primary source of revenue. Perhaps somewhat ironically, while Malta is often considered to be the gambling capital of the world, there are only four actual brick and mortar casinos dotted around the island.

Malta’s affair with remote gambling began in 2004, when the then-Prime Minister of Malta, Lawrence Gonzi, put forward the first online or remote gambling regulations in the EU (European Union). This gave Malta the distinct advantage of being able to lead the way in the future of online gambling licensing and regulation. Today, Malta is one of the undisputed leaders in the field, and regular online gamblers will be very familiar with the MGA (Malta Gambling Association) logo on their favourite online casino.

Malta, the Mob and the Slain Journalist         

Of course, whenever an industry or even a country see extraordinary growth in a given field, particularly when money starts flowing, it is bound to attract its fair share of unwanted nefarious attention. Most of us already associate gambling with the mob, thanks to countless Hollywood movies about Las Vegas and Atlantic City, two of the biggest brick and mortar gambling destinations in the world. So why not the online casino industry too?

This was, by all accounts, the burning question on the mind of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, a native of Malta and an anti-corruption activist. While investigating Malta’s extraordinary growth within the online gambling industry, Daphne began to uncover shocking evidence of mob involvement, deep within the Maltese gaming industry. Tragically, she was killed in a car bomb incident in October 2017 before being able to complete her investigation and bring the Italian mafia’s money laundering operations to light.

The Daphne Project - The Fight Continues

The murder of Daphne indeed did not achieve what the mob wanted, the end of the attempt to uncover their clandestine dealing in Malta. Instead, her death only helped to fuel deeper investigations. After her untimely death, various investigative news organisations from fifteen countries created a joint task force named the Daphne Project, in honour of the slain journalist. The group includes members of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI) and others. Together they pick up where the tenacious reporter left off, determined to complete her work.

So far the group has uncovered even more disturbing evidence of how the Italian mob has turned Malta into their own personal ATM, laundering billions through regulated Maltese online casinos. Investigators have also found numerous instances of serious oversight on the part of the MGA who have somehow managed to miss signs of serious criminal infiltration into Malta-affiliated online casinos. This is according to the latest anti-mafia operations, which have shown how lucrative remote gambling licenses change hands, moving from one criminal sub-group to another.

Here’s the part that the mafia really gains benefit. As long as an online casino operator (or betting operator) is registered in Malta, they are allowed to offer gambling services in any country that is a member of the EU. In other words, as long as their computer terminals are directly linked to Maltese servers, they’re good to go. When an online casino is clean, the idea is that certain safeguards are in place to protect players and prevent any criminal activity or abuse. Your average online casino allows players from all over the world to log into their private casino accounts and play games using their own funds. However, when an online casino is controlled by the mob, things are a little bit different. These organised crime syndicates transform online casinos into virtual ATMs, which they can then access at any time, from anywhere within the EU.