The Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste (East Timor) has formally announced its ambition to become an online gambling regulatory and licensing hub, with the nation’s Nobel laureate, President Jose Ramos-Horta, endorsing the strategy.
Ramos-Horta made the pitch for an online gambling segment in a video during the final session of an invitation-only gambling symposium at the InterContinental Hotel in the Maltese town of St. Julian’s on Monday (November 13).
His eight-minute presentation at the Malta Experts Insight event introduced the benefits of investing in East Timor and preceded a panel promoting the legal and regulatory benefits of the nation for the online gambling industry.
The panellists included East Timor’s ambassador to Indonesia, Filomeno Aleixo da Cruz, Capital Group project lead Antonio Sampaio, London-based lawyer Patrice Rodrigue and gambling regulation consultant Richard Leather.
Most of the event’s details have not been released to the public, but Leather confirmed to Vixio GamblingCompliance on Tuesday (November 14) that his consultancy TheRegulationService and Rodrigue’s Angular Legal law firm are “advising” the Virtual Gaming Association (VGA) of Timor-Leste.
“The VGA will be accepting industry feedback and will then be submitting recommendations to the government,” Leather said.
“Capital Group is investing in Timor-Leste, in particular regarding graduate training schemes with Timor-Leste universities and establishing a call centre/BPO [business process outsourcing] centre in Timor Leste,” he said.
The VGA’s media release on Tuesday did not elaborate on the nation’s online gambling agenda, but the association's website notes that licensing and regulation are to be established “in line with the democratic approach prevalent in East Timor”.
“Through the ‘Virtual Gaming Initiative’ we actively seek a major position for Timor-Leste among gaming jurisdictions in the international gaming industry,” it said.
“[W]e aim to create a global platform in Dili that brings together leading operators and service providers from across the globe in order to generate economic growth, jobs and investment opportunities for the Timorese society.”
The website says licences will be managed via an electronic portal and are expected to be issued by the second quarter of 2024, including for B2C and B2B interests and white-label providers.
“All product verticals will be allowed,” it says, adding that East Timor will not host servers but “local data replication will be required”. It also solicits industry feedback on licensing needs.
Since breaking away from Indonesia in 2002, the Lusophone and Austronesian nation has struggled to raise living standards and internet connectivity amid choppy relations with Indonesia and Australia, but it remains a stable and liberal country with one of the youngest populations in the world.
Ramos-Horta’s endorsement of the online gambling push is notable given his title and his role as freedom fighter and in the founding of the nation amid violent Indonesian opposition.
But the push also comes as China, strongly hostile to online gambling operations, moves to increase influence in the country and the wider Southeast Asian and South Pacific spheres, alarming Australia and other US allies.
Beijing and Dili upgraded ties to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” in September after Chinese President Xi Jinping met East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in Hangzhou.
It was not immediately clear which online markets the VGA will target, and whether China will be prominent among them, a move that would potentially weigh on the bilateral relationship.