Gibraltar’s exit from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) greylist is a matter of “when, not if”, according to the minister in charge of gambling issues, as the British Overseas Territory tackles a trio of vital issues over the coming months.
Last year, Gibraltar became the second ever European country to be placed on the financial transaction watchdog’s warning list, after Malta two years ago, and it hopes to be off as soon as this month.
The greylist is one of three key issues facing Gibraltar: the others are a delayed update of gambling laws meant to keep it attractive as a gambling hub; and the status of its border with Spain.
Last June, Gibraltar was placed on FATF's greylist, just as rival hub Malta was removed.
Shortly after, Albert Isola, minister for digital and financial services, promised Gibraltar would be off the greylist within a year. That is still not impossible, as FATF meets next week.
But on Thursday (June 15) he said the “timing is not within our control”, as he praised gambling regulators for supplying “superb” documentation supporting Gibraltar’s case.
Isola and others spoke at the annual KPMG Gibraltar eSummit, traditionally a gathering to discuss online gambling in Gibraltar and the UK, the market on which most of its licensees are focused.
In February, FATF acknowledged Gibraltar’s progress, saying it has improved on one of two criteria which put it on the greylist: enforcement of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing breaches.
Outstanding is a non-gambling issue concerning civil and criminal confiscations, said Gambling Commissioner Andrew Lyman.
Last month Gibraltar got a jolt, as its long-term post-Brexit goal of a “frictionless” border was delayed yet one more time.
The UK has been negotiating a border deal with the EU for 2.5 years, with 13 sessions so far and counting.
That is a key issue for the 2,000 or so staff that cross the border to do gambling-related jobs every day.
But in May, Gibraltar got what Isola called a “sudden curve ball”.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called a snap election for July 23 after his Socialist party got pounded by conservative and far-right parties in regional and municipal elections.
A government led by Spanish parties to the political right would probably be less amenable to a Gibraltar-friendly deal and, in any case, might not resume negotiations for months as it may be busy with other issues.
Under interim rules, Gibraltar citizens and long-term residents can freely cross the border, while British citizens without residency status in either Spain or Gibraltar need their passports stamped every time they cross.
Brexit means British citizens can only spend 90 days of every 180 within the European Union.
Options appear to range from a deal that would grant Gibraltar citizens and perhaps long-term residents full access to the EU’s Schengen area, all the way to a “no deal” scenario, which might require every traveller to show their passport at each crossing.
The Gibraltar government is preparing to participate in negotiations with whatever government emerges from Spanish elections, Isola said.
“I remain confident we can have an outcome that works for all of us,” he told the audience.
Gibraltar is also moving ahead with its overhaul of online gambling regulations, an update that has been delayed since as far back as 2017 by the complexities of Brexit.
More recently, Gibraltar ended its consultation on the new gambling act on August 31 last year.
In his speech, Isola acknowledged the importance of the bill, and said it will be published “shortly”.
Lyman added that all major provisions have been agreed, but still being discussed are marketing issues surrounding affiliates and the role of B2B platform suppliers.
A key new element will be that licensees will be tasked to uphold the reputation of Gibraltar, he said.
“We simply don’t want anyone who would play fast and loose with the reputation of Gibraltar,” he said.