Malta: The Technicalities Of The Malta Gaming Authority's DLT Sandbox Framework

The nation of Malta has led the way with its blockchain regulations and has encouraged its other major authorities to embrace the technology. The Malta Gaming Authority is a leading regulator of online and land-based gambling and has recently published its guidelines to move towards accepting virtual financial assets and distributed ledger technology within the gaming industry.

The Malta Gaming Authority announced in March 2018 that they would be creating methods of welcoming distributed ledger technology and cryptocurrencies into the gaming industry. They announced that a licensing system would be established alongside methods of using wallets of digital currency at gaming websites and a way of calculating exchange rates. It was at this time that the Malta Gaming Authority announced their plans to create a sandbox testing environment in which developers could test their games to see if they are in line with the upcoming regulations of the Malta Gaming Authority.

In October 2018, the Malta Gaming Authority released its guidelines for the framework that they had created to assist the budding technology in the gaming industry.

The Malta Gaming Authority releases its sandbox framework

The announcement detailed the two phases of the framework. Phase one is set to commence on the 1st of January 2019, at which point the Malta Gaming Authority will be accepting applications from bodies within the gaming industry looking to allow the use of virtual financial assets and virtual tokens as a means of payment. In phase two, their framework will be extended to allow for applications from those looking to use innovative technology arrangements, such as distributed ledger technology, within the key technical equipment of licensees: this is to coincide with further developments made by the established Malta Digital Innovation Authority. The Malta Gaming Authority is expecting the sandbox framework to continue until October 2019, but the paper is to be considered as a live document so that the regulatory requirements initially envisioned can be changed to adapt to technological and regulatory developments if necessary.

Even if an applicant fully complies with the Maltese blockchain legislation, they must still obtain a license from the MFSA before being granted access to the sandbox framework. Furthermore, applicants can apply for the inclusion of their testnet within the sandbox framework should their live environment go live within the three months following their approval by the Malta Gaming Authority.

The Malta Gaming Authority have established criteria as to how to define virtual assets and the steps required to use assets from distributed ledger technology. Prior to the involvement of the Malta Gaming Authority, an operator shall need to undergo a Financial Instrument Test that is issued by the Malta Financial Services Authority to be able to determine the nature of the distributed ledger technology asset, be it a virtual financial asset or a virtual token. Once this has been established, the operator shall submit the Malta Financial Service Authority's findings with other appropriate documentation to the Malta Gaming Authority as a stage of the application process to be approved for the sandbox.

Regulating the use of virtual financial assets

If the asset is deemed to be a virtual financial asset, it adheres to established statutes of Maltese law. Operators can then use virtual financial assets that are overseen by the Malta Financial Services Authority in accordance with the Virtual Financial Assets Act. Those deemed to be financial instruments, per the Investment Services Act, or electronic money, per the Financial Institutions Act, can only be accepted as a method of payment if they are specifically approved by the Malta Gaming Authority, which shall be decided on a case-by-case basis at the Authority's discretion.

When users sign-up to gaming websites with the intent to use virtual financial assets, only wallet addresses that are specifically tied to the individual will be permitted within the gaming ecosystem. Once the wallet has been recognised, for a deposit of virtual financial assets to be successful, the operator must verify the individual's details and their wallet. Once verification is complete, players receive their gaming funds. Withdrawals can only be performed to verified wallets, and if a pending transaction does not match the player's verified wallet address, funds will be returned to their point of origin or shall be frozen.

The operator must clearly identify and forewarn all players to withdrawal and deposit transaction fees should these exist on their platform. Within the operator's ecosystem, virtual financial assets and fiat currencies shall be treated as separate entities, with an exchange between the two not permitted. For the sandbox framework, the exchange rate applied shall adhere to that of the virtual financial asset exchange declared to the Malta Gaming Authority by the operator. The exchange rate shall be taken for the virtual financial assets permitted against the Euro (€) at the time of 12:00 Central European Time on the last day of the reporting month with the taken exchange rate unable to change throughout that same reporting month. However, exchange rates can change from reporting month to reporting month. Operators shall enforce a maximum deposit to the value of €1000 in virtual financial assets per month.

Regulating the use of virtual tokens

The use of virtual tokens shall also be decided on a case-by-case basis by the Malta Gaming Authority: a decision which is guided by their distributed ledger technology economics criteria as well as an evaluation of token's technology, the company's structure, human resources, market applications, and security. Registered players can acquire virtual tokens from the operator on the operator's platform for use on the platform. Virtual tokens can purchased with the use of fiat money as long as withdrawals following the use of the virtual tokens can also be made in fiat currency at the same rate of exchange as they were initially acquired.

Regulating the use of innovative technology arrangements

During the operation of the sandbox framework, the Malta Gaming Authority shall be accepting games and components of games that are fully or partially hosted in a distributed ledger environment, but these technologies shall also be subject to an audit. Other essential components hosted on distributed ledger technology will also be accepted if the Malta Gaming Authority is satisfied by the technology's compliance with regulation and is successful in an audit.

Approval from the Malta Gaming Authority and inclusion within the sandbox framework is required of any operator seeking to make use of innovative technology arrangements as a part of its key equipment, and each element of innovative technology arrangements shall be audited by registered auditors of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority. The technology is only accepted if the audit report concludes with a positive outcome and the Malta Gaming Authority is satisfied that its regulatory requirements will be adhered to by the operator.

Smart contracts will only be permitted if: the smart contract's code is reviewed by an audit; necessary amendments are made following the results of the audit; necessary safeguards are put in place to protect the transferred assets; revocation of a smart contract can occur should a flaw generated in the code be discovered; and wallet verification is part of the player's identity. The main focus of the Malta Gaming Authority, with regards to smart contracts, is where the funds placed in escrow during a contract are held by the smart contract.

According to the Malta Gaming Authority's Guidelines on Technical Infrastructure Hosting Gaming and Control systems, hosting architecture must be located within the nation of Malta, a European Union member state, or a member of the European Economic Area to ensure that the same principles are upheld, which would seemingly exclude the use of public distributed ledger technology platforms. But applications to the sandbox framework using such technology will not be scrutinised for not abiding by these guidelines. To gain a license, however, the operator of this technology will need to establish a node in Malta to adhere to requirements.

Once approved by the Malta Gaming Authority, the licensee will be rewarded with a dynamic seal, acknowledging that they are a participant of the sandbox framework.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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