It is not unreasonable to have doubts about an economic activity built on vice, but the gaming industry is today a major economic player, a large employer, and one of the very few economic activities that proved essentially covid-proof.

The callousness with which the government is treating the industry is staggering. While vice-minister Alex Muscat brands the ongoing reporting about Malta’s passport scheme as “an attack on Malta” the real assault on the country is being perpetrated by the government itself.

Industry sources tell this website that they have had chuckles and taunts by senior regulatory officials of other countries at the news that Malta appointed Ryan Pace, with zero experience of the gaming industry, as chairman of the Malta Gaming Authority.

The industry press is also unimpressed. Reporting for industry journal EGR, trade report Robert Simmons points out that Pace “in his late twenties … is understood to have no prior experience of gambling regulation”.

Ryan Pace’s only credentials appear to be being a Labour Party activist and having worked as a junior lawyer in Robert Abela’s small law firm, Abela Advocates.

The MGA is struggling to regain the respect of the gaming industry after its former bosses were involved in scandals. Josef Cuschieri was forced out of the Financial Services Authority after being exposed for advising Yorgen Fenech on gaming procurement just a few days after leaving the Gaming Authority.

His replacement, Heathcliff Farrugia, was forced out of the MGA after a police investigation also exposed a corrupt relationship with Yorgen Fenech. In messages with the former casino owner since charged with killing Daphne Caruana Galizia, Heathcliff Farrugia conspired with Yorgen Fenech to cover up answers to questions about irregular gambling at his casinos by one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s alleged assassins. Farrugia told Fenech he would not take appropriate action as a regulator to avoid the news reaching the ears of “the Daphne crowd”.

In rare criticism, the gaming industry association lamented “loss of business and an impact on reputation” because of the corruption and collusion at the MGA exposed by the press.

Instead of trying to fill the position with someone who would give the industry confidence the MGA would turn a fresh page, Robert Abela appointed someone unqualified except for his proximity to partisan interests.

Speaking to EGR, Julian Buhagiar from RB Capital described the appointment of Ryan Pace as a “really poor showing. A reputable authority should be looking to hire someone to boost its credibility, not the other way round.”