The Malta Gaming Authority’s (MGA’s) Player Support Unit received a total of 5,625 requests for assistance from players in 2020, up 58 per cent on the same figure for 2019.

This significant increase, according to the MGA’s Annual Report, potentially stemmed “at least partly” from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on player behaviour.

This figure stands in contrast with the number of active player accounts registered on MGA-licensed websites, which did increase (by 18.1 per cent) compared to 2019, but only at the same pace of earlier years.

It comes after international experts and regulatory bodies had warned that pandemic isolation threatened to aggravate risks faced by consumers in the gambling market.

One such observer, Minister for Social Insurance Ardalan Shekerabi in Sweden, where the Government introduced stringent deposit caps on gambling during the pandemic, warned in April that “the current situation entails great risks” for gamblers.

As part of the MGA’s own efforts to help combat problem gambling during the pandemic, it details a drive to keep a “close eye” on developments with respect to COVID, as well as its impact on players who “may have become vulnerable due to isolation and social distancing”.

In the first quarter of 2020, as the pandemic took hold, the Authority issued a reminder to licensed gambling operators that their commercial communications must be “socially responsible”

As part of this, it indicated a set of rules, which “at no point must any commercial communications directly or indirectly:

  • Encourage antisocial behaviour,
  • Suggest that gaming can be a resolution to social, educational, personal, or professional problems,
  • Suggest that gaming can be an alternative to employment,
  • Suggest that gaming can be a solution to financial concerns or a form of financial investment,
  • Portray gaming as socially attractive, or
  • Suggest that solitary gaming is preferable to social gaming.

The MGA identifies that during 2020, its Commercial Communications Committee, which is its body responsible for regulating gambling advertising, held 32 meetings, and found a total of 44 authorised persons to be in breach of various provisions of the Commercial Communications Regulations.

Specifically relating to adverts or campaigns that, in the opinion of the Committee, “inappropriately exploited the COVID pandemic”, the MGA took action in 10 cases.

MGA operators also imposed a number of self-exclusion and optional limits, by which players can help keep potentially troublesome gambling in check.

Players set 8.4 million limits during 2020, it reflects.

Aside from this, the Authority also says it is taking part in the battle against problem gambling through attending the Responsible Gambling and Addiction working group, and through collaboration with the Responsible Gaming Foundation.

Looking to 2021, regarding responsible gambling, the MGA expects “more focus” to continue to be placed on responsible gambling, through the carrying out of targeted responsible gaming audits, aiming at gaining a “profound” understanding of the systems and controls held by operators.

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