Offshore gambling hub Gibraltar has been struck off the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list of jurisdictions.

The FATF keeps a list of jurisdictions that require increased monitoring to fulfil their anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing obligations. This is often unofficially termed the “grey list”.

After an FATF plenary today (23 February) in Paris, the inter-governmental organisation opted to remove Gibraltar from the list.

This was widely expected, with the body reporting the territory had “substantially completed” its action plan in October 2023. This came despite insufficient progress having been made to fully exit the list in time for its original May 2023 deadline.

The body noted “significant progress” in addressing the strategic AML/CTF deficiencies identified in previous evaluations.

As such, the peninsular will no longer be subject to the FATF’s increased monitoring process.

“The jurisdiction was happy to receive the decision of the FATF Plenary that Gibraltar no longer requires enhanced monitoring by the FATF,” Gibraltar gambling commissioner and executive director Andrew Lyman told NEXT.io.

“There is a sense of jurisdictional relief about removal from the grey list, but also a sense of pride that a big team effort, together with a political will to facilitate change and allocate resource has helped to demonstrate that Gibraltar is a well managed and fully compliant financial centre.”

Presence on the grey list can lead to increased compliance obligations for registered businesses in the jurisdiction, as well as making it harder to access certain financial structures.

“The FATF’s grey list process is not punitive, it is a tool to highlight to countries the fundamental gaps in their AML/CFT system that facilitate crime and enable illicit finance so that they can work closely with the FATF to address these gaps,” said FATF president T. Raja Kumar.

“This is very welcome news and I am delighted that our continued and ongoing work and political commitment to future development has been recognised,” said Gibraltar chief minister the Hon Fabian Picardo KC MP.

“I am grateful to all the agencies and authorities that have contributed to this work as well as the private sector that has wholeheartedly joined us in our fight against economic crime. Gibraltar’s FATF white listing not only enhances our reputation but also strengthens our position as a trusted and compliant international financial centre.”

Gibraltar first appears on list in June 2022

The global anti-money laundering body first placed Gibraltar on the list after the June 2022 plenary, the same meeting that saw Malta removed from the grey list.

In its remarks, the FATF highlighted the territory’s online gambling industry as the principal reason for its presence on the list.

The FATF urged Gibraltar to take steps to improve its AML regime. This included by focusing on the “gatekeepers” of the financial system, as well as on gambling operators and lawyers.

The body also said the British Overseas Territory had historically failed in applying sufficient fines for AML failings.

After placing Gibraltar on the list, the FATF set an action plan with a May 2023 deadline for completion.

However, in October 2023, the body said that all deadlines had now “expired” with insufficient progress having been made to exit the list.

By the October plenary, only one item remained to be completed to fully actioned in order to leave the grey list.

As such, the FATF noted Gibraltar’s progress. However, the intergovernmental body highlighted further work was required.

Gibraltar’s failure to exit the list in the October 2023 plenary ignited a political row within the country, with the centre-right Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) slamming the government’s “underwhelming” delisting plan.

The government in response criticised the GSD for “political opportunism” with the grey list.

Playson, the fast-growing digital entertainment supplier, has been granted a B2B licence by the Gibraltar Licensing Authority, a move that will supercharge its ambitious growth plans.

Gaining this sought-after licence follows a strong year of growth for Playson and precedes a packed roadmap of content releases for next year, which will now be available to Gibraltar-licensed operators.

As part of the licensing process, Playson completed several stages of vigorous scrutiny, engaging C-levels from across the business, including its CEO, COO and CCO, head of platform, and general counsel, Felicia Andronic.

After six months of preparation, the provider submitted a business plan and received pre-approval for the licence, before embarking on an extensive due diligence process across the whole business.

Playson’s extensive portfolio of games has now been certified for use and operators with a Gibraltar licence can now benefit from player favourites such as Coin Strike: Hold and Win, 3 Pots Riches: Hold and Win and Energy Coins: Hold and Win, as well as a robust 2024 roadmap featuring a greater frequency of new releases each month.

Felicia Andronic, general counsel at Playson, said: “The Gibraltar licence is an important milestone for us and after a long and thorough process, we are pleased to have been approved by the Gambling Division. This key licence will spark significant commercial growth for us and enable us to provide our engaging content to even more UK and international facing operators.

“In 2024, Playson will step up a gear, delivering a jam-packed schedule of game releases and supporting promotions, so we are thrilled that more players than ever before can enjoy what we have to offer.”

Financial Action Task Force (FATF) president Raja Kumar has confirmed Gibraltar is on track to be removed from its list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring.  

In a Friday plenary session, the FATF said the British Overseas Territory has “substantially completed” its action plan and would send for an on-site inspection to check the progress. 

This exit inspection is the final stage of the process before the international AML body removes a jurisdiction from the so-called grey list.  

It will aim to verify the implementation of the AML/ CTF reforms has begun – and that there is political will to continue the work in future.  

The Gibraltar government is optimistic the FATF will remove it from the list at the next plenary session, which is scheduled for February 2024.  

“Everyone in Gibraltar will be delighted by this news and warmly welcome this highly positive outcome,” said Gibraltar minister for justice, trade and industry Nigel Feetham KC.  

“I wish to thank all of those authorities who have worked tirelessly in this process and continue to support us in our work to address these action points and remove Gibraltar from the grey list at the earliest possible opportunity.” 

FATF places Gibraltar on grey list

The FATF originally placed Gibraltar on the grey list at its June 2022 plenary session, a meeting that also saw Malta removed from the list.  

Presence on the list has meant Gibraltar-based companies face potentially increased compliance costs, as well as greater difficulty in accessing financial services.  

“We have totally committed to this process and look forward to continuing to engage with the FATF as we further develop our strategies in our fight against economic crime,” added Feetham.  

The body’s then chair, Marcus Pleyer, said the peninsula’s status as an online gambling hub played a significant role in the decision to add it to the grey list.  

In particular, he highlighted Gibraltar’s failure to apply appropriate sanctions on gambling operators for AML/ CTF failings.  

Following the plenary, the FATF presented the territory with an action plan to improve its financial regime.  

The plan asked Gibraltar to give its financial regulators increased powers to pursue regulatory sanctions and to show it was more “actively and successfully” pursuing confiscation orders.  

The government initially expected to complete the plan within 12 months, with a May 2023 deadline.  

Ultimately, this timeline was not met.  

In June 2023, the FATF warned Gibraltar that “all deadlines have now expired”. As a result, it urged the territory to complete its action plan as soon as possible.   

Mansion Group has officially confirmed the closure of its B2C brands casino.com and MansionCasino.com, effective as of the end of October.

Following the closure of its sportsbook business in March 2022, online casino was the only vertical that the group continued to manage.

NEXT.io previously reported the impending business closure in late September, when sources confirmed the company’s wind-down process.

The decision is expected to leave around 200 people without jobs.

A message to affiliates

In a message sent to affiliates, Mansion Group has now confirmed the closure: “After careful evaluation of our business operations, we have made the difficult choice to shut down the B2C operations of our gaming brands, Casino.com and MansionCasino.com.” 

Gaming operations on both sites will cease on 26 October.

The operator further instructed affiliates to close their accounts by 31 October, with final payment processing commencing on 1 November, and funds expected to be disbursed by the third week of November. 

Mansion Group aims to fully close access to its affiliate programme by 31 November.

A note to players

Players were also informed about the closure, with a note on casino.com and mansioncasino.com stating that the sites would no longer accept deposits and gameplay after 7am GMT on 26 October.

Players are encouraged to withdraw any remaining funds by 31 December.

Mansion Group, licensed and headquartered in Gibraltar since 2004, maintained a significant workforce of approximately 150 employees in Sofia, Bulgaria, which served as its primary technological and operational centre. 

The company’s base in Gibraltar operated primarily as its acquisition and marketing hub. 

Challenging period

The company, led by chairman and group president Chris Block since May 2021, has faced significant challenges in recent times. 

Former CEO Karel Mañasco was suspended in September 2021 amid allegations of unauthorised payments during his tenure. He resigned in December of that year. 

Mansion Group exited the UK market in January 2023 citing regulatory challenges. This followed the closure of its sportsbook brand MansionBet in March 2022.

The operator also left the Ontario market in January after obtaining a licence in 2022. 

The specific reasons for the company’s decision to shut down the entire business remain unknown. 

NEXT.io has contacted Mansion Group for comment.

Hundreds of Entain employees are at risk of redundancy as the operator streamlines its commercial operating structure.

The restructure, which is being overseen by Entain chief commercial officer (CCO) Dominic Grounsell, will see Entain switch from a brand-led strategy to a regional strategy.

Under the existing set-up, each Entain portfolio brand includes a team of managers across CRM, marketing, business intelligence and analytics. The business has operated this way for decades, since it was originally established as bwin.party.

However, iGaming NEXT understands the new structure will be based on geography, leading to a duplication of senior roles and the increased likelihood of job losses.

Entain’s offices in Vienna, Austria and Lisbon, Portugal are expected to feel the impacts of the reshuffle, with some staff being invited to reapply for their current positions.

There are currently four pages of open vacancies displayed on the company’s Vienna jobs board, none of which relate to commercial or marketing roles.

Gibraltar

iGaming NEXT has learned that Entain’s digital marketing roles in Gibraltar across PPC, SEO and programmatic are also at risk.

Staff were told the current headcount is too high during internal meetings this week.

The Rock is currently home to Entain brands including Coral, Foxy, Gala and PartyPoker.

London

Entain’s operating structure in London has also changed.

The firm’s One New Change office, situated in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, is no longer open. The office phone number listed on Entain’s website now automatically redirects to Gibraltar.

Entain signed a 10-year lease for the sought-after location in 2013 which expired earlier this year. Sources have suggested that renewal rates were deemed too high to justify, with the company keeping an increasingly close eye on costs in recent quarters.

One New Change was home to many different business functions, including more than 80 poker employees, according to a floorplan seen by iGaming NEXT.

The building also played host to casino, legal, finance, digital marketing, HR, corporate affairs and investor relations staff, and some C-levels, including CFO and deputy CEO Rob Wood.

Staff have since been relocated to the Ladbrokes Coral office in Stratford, East London, while others have moved to a new location in Nottingham.

“As a global business that continues to grow organically and through M&A, we are constantly evolving to ensure that we are positioned as strongly as possible to capture the significant opportunities in front of us, as well as ensuring we continue to deliver the best offer to our customers,” said an Entain spokesperson when contacted for comment by iGaming NEXT.

Entain is due to report its H1 financial results on 10 August 2023.

As Gibraltar remains on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the government faces mounting criticism.

But gambling commissioner Andrew Lyman has underscored that only one substantive action point remains pending, which does not relate to the local gaming sector.

The FATF stated that although progress had been made, the deadline for implementing the required actions has passed.

Gibraltar was placed on the grey list in June 2022 due to to deficiencies in anti-money laundering (AML) compliance.

The FATF had initially highlighted certain steps that Gibraltar needed to take to be removed from the list, including focusing on gatekeepers to the financial system and imposing appropriate financial penalties.

In response, Gibraltar implemented an action plan to effectively combat money laundering.

While the FATF acknowledged progress in strengthening Gibraltar’s AML and counter-terrorism financing regime, it urged the Rock to also demonstrate its ability to pursue more “final confiscation judgments commensurate with the risk and context of Gibraltar”, which is the only outstanding point.

Light at the end of tunnel

In comments made to iGaming NEXT, Gibraltar gambling commissioner Lyman stressed that all action points related to Gibraltar’s supervisory agencies were completed as of February 2023.

Gibraltar increased the number of gambling licensees by 13 last year, which Lyman said demonstrates the lack of grey listing impact on the jurisdiction’s gambling industry.

“Therefore, the grey listing has had only a limited detrimental effect on the sector, which can now see light at the end of the tunnel,” Lyman said.

Being on the FATF grey list typically results in increased regulatory scrutiny, limited access to banking services, and oversight by regulatory bodies due to financial institutions’ hesitancy to engage in transactions with countries on the list.

The Gibraltar government expressed its commitment to the ongoing process, with all relevant authorities working with the FATF to ensure full compliance with the action plan as soon as possible.

Scoring political points

However, Roy Clinton, shadow minister for financial services and gaming of the Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD), expressed frustration and criticised the government for a lack of details on how delisting would be achieved.

Speaking to the Gibraltar Chronicle, Clinton highlighted the failure to deliver on previous statements regarding compliance within the given timescale and expressed concern about Gibraltar’s reputation as a high-risk jurisdiction.

Clinton noted that the Cayman Islands, which was also added to the grey list in 2021 and had a similar point to address, has already met the FATF action plan and will commence the process for delisting in October 2023 after an onsite visit.

The government responded to Clinton’s criticism by stating that the GSD was well aware of the strict rules of confidentiality governing the FATF process.

It expressed disappointment that the party had chosen to prioritise “scoring cheap political points” over the importance of the matter at hand.

Lastly, the government emphasised that, at present, there was nothing more it could do as the law enforcement agencies and regulators continue their work.

Responsible gambling provider Crucial Compliance has opened a new office on the Isle of Man.

The Gibraltar-based company is expanding as it seeks to enhance the iGaming industry’s anti-money laundering (AML) and responsible gambling protocols and compliance.

The new building has been opened in response to the increasing demand from iGaming businesses to set up shop on the island, according to the company.

Paul Foster, co-founder of Crucial Compliance, said: “Our mission at Crucial Compliance is to create a safer gambling environment for everyone.

“The Isle of Man has seen a significant increase in the number of licences over the last 18 months, thanks to its mature, accessible regulator.

“Coupled with the increasing demand for holistic AML and responsible gambling tools, the decision to expand into the Isle of Man aligns perfectly with our business growth strategy,” he added.

Crucial Compliance was a finalist at the Isle of Man Fintech Innovation Challenge last November, where it said it developed strong relationships with local businesses.

Lee Hills, who mentored Crucial Compliance during the challenge, said: “It is fantastic to have one of our international finalists put down roots on the island.

“This demonstrates the strength and effectiveness of introducing international businesses to our supportive business community,” he added.

Better Change, the Gibraltar-based safer and responsible gambling company, has recruited Rob Mabbett as its new engagement director.

Mabbett brings more than a decade of experience in the gambling sector, having previously worked with UK bookmaker Betfred and gambling harm treatment provider Gordon Moody.

Mabbett’s career includes a stint as an award-winning employee at Betfred, where he earned the Racing Post/SIS betting shop manager of the year title back in 2016.

More recently, he held the position of director of external engagement at Gordon Moody, supporting those most severely affected by gambling harm.

Better Change said in a press release that his familiarity with both operators and the safer gambling community make him an ideal choice for the role.

Strategic direction

Better Change founder Victoria Reed said: “This senior role will see Rob take control of our strategic direction as well as build on the phenomenal growth we’ve seen over the past two years.

“Rob’s passion, humility and experience is second to none and I am thrilled to welcome him to our team,” she added.

Better Change will continue its partnership with Gordon Moody, with both organisations collaborating to drive further growth and development across the sector.

Mabbett said: “The past five years at Gordon Moody have been nothing short of incredible and I am delighted to be leaving them in a hugely strong position.

“The opportunity to still be able to continue working in the sector alongside Gordon Moody, while spreading my wings and joining an organisation which has managed to disrupt the industry with professionalism, innovation and a fresh perspective, is an exciting challenge.”

What is Better Change?

Founded in 2020 by two Harvard Business School alumni, Better Change has been dedicated to challenging the status quo and promoting positive play in the gambling industry.

By focusing on responsible gambling and collaborating with existing industry efforts, Better Change aims to create a safer environment for the consumers of gambling products.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has suspended Russia’s membership on the one-year anniversary of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine while confirming that Gibraltar will remain on its grey list.

The decisions were made at the second Plenary of the FATF in Paris, which includes members from over 200 jurisdictions worldwide.

“The Russian Federation’s actions unacceptably run counter to the FATF core principles aiming to promote security, safety, and the integrity of the global financial system,” the global financial oversight entity said.

The FATF said it will continue to monitor the situation and will review the restrictions at each Plenary meeting.

More progress needed

Meanwhile, iGaming hub Gibraltar will remain on the FATF’s grey list, as confirmed by the watchdog.

The British territory, known for its online gambling industry, was placed on the increased monitoring list in June 2022 due to its failure to apply adequate fines for anti-money laundering breaches.

Malta was removed from the grey list at the June meeting.

The FATF acknowledged that Gibraltar had implemented measures to improve the effectiveness of its anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing (AML/CFT) regime.

In particular, the watchdog highlighted that supervisory bodies in industries such as gaming, law, real estate, and company management had taken effective action to address violations of AML/CFT regulations.

However, the FATF chose not to remove Gibraltar from the grey list and recommended that Gibraltar continues to implement its action plan, including pursuing more final confiscation judgments in line with the territory’s risk and context.

Nigeria and South Africa added

In addition, the FATF included South Africa and Nigeria to its list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring, which means that customers of financial institutions in these countries can expect to undergo more thorough due diligence examinations in the global banking and finance industry.

Nigeria is also an increasingly important market for the iGaming industry.

Stockholm-listed Betsson entered Nigeria in July 2022 following the acquisition of a 60% stake in local sportsbook Betbonanza.

Mansion Group has become the latest gambling operator to quit the UK market due to increasingly challenging regulatory requirements.

The Gibraltar-based operator’s casino site stopped accepting deposits from players on 12 January, while customers are being urged to withdraw their funds before 12 April 2023.

Online casino was the only vertical left for the group in the UK following the closure of its MansionBet sportsbook brand back in March of 2022.

At the time, Mansion said it had chosen to focus solely on casino due to the heightened competition and regulatory environment in the UK.

However, its portfolio of casino sites have now fallen victim to the same set of circumstances.

“Mansion has enjoyed serving UK customers for almost 20 years, but we are all aware of the increasingly challenging regulatory conditions that have led to much narrower paths to profitability and ultimately, the decision that Mansion has taken.”

“Mansion has enjoyed serving UK customers for almost 20 years, but we are all aware of the increasingly challenging regulatory conditions that have led to much narrower paths to profitability and ultimately, the decision that Mansion has taken,” said a spokesperson.

UK-licensed operators have been forced to adapt to stricter regulations for the best part of five years now and further restrictions are expected when the government’s gambling white paper is published in the coming months.

The Gambling Commission has tightened measures to combat money laundering and social responsibility requirements such as age verification, self-exclusion and deposit limits. It has also ramped up its enforcement efforts, with £45m paid out in fines by operators in 2022.

Adhering to these guidelines has come with increased operational costs for many operators and Mansion is not the only firm to conclude the UK market is simply not worth the outlay.

As far back as 2020, Betsson shelved eight of its UK-facing brands for similar reasons, while companies including bet-at-home and Genesis Global also pulled the plug in 2022.