Malta Gambling Conference Draws Flak Over COVID-19 Protocols, Strip-Tease Act

November 22, 2021
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​​​​​​​The SiGMA Europe conference in Malta last week was dogged by controversies ranging from concerns about COVID-19 precautions to a strip-tease act at an exhibitor’s booth that was quickly squelched.

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The SiGMA Europe conference in Malta last week was dogged by controversies ranging from concerns about COVID-19 precautions to a strip-tease act at an exhibitor’s booth that was quickly squelched.

Local newspapers highlighted what they called lax checks of vaccination and testing in at least the early days of the SiGMA conference, one of the first large post-COVID in-person gambling conferences in Europe.

A Latvian casino games supplier, Lucky Streak, also had a booth featuring a raunchy parody of a strip show that apparently was quickly shut down by organisers. It was also reportedly banned from future conferences.

One executive complained that “if you go on the exhibition floor you will find pole dancers dressed provocatively”.

“I thought as an industry we had moved on from this but sadly it appears we haven’t,” wrote International Betting Integrity Association chief executive Khalid Ali on LinkedIn.

In response, SiGMAa chief executive Eman Pulis said he was angered by the strip show and had reacted quickly.

“What I saw yesterday made me sick to my stomach,” he wrote last Wednesday. “I unplugged their sound system [and] asked all management to rectify the situation with immediate effects.”

The controversy echoed one from the 2018 ICE gambling conference in London, where booths featured pole dancers, sex toy giveaways and lingerie-clad clad models. Since then, organiser Clarion has enforced a dress and conduct code.

Last week’s Malta conference also drew flak from local newspapers that claimed the conference was not following COVID-19 protocols set by health authorities.

Controversy flared even though both Prime Minister Robert Abela and economy minister Silvio Schembri visited the event.

The Malta Independent and the Times of Malta both featured stories claiming organisers were not checking for vaccine certificates or proof of testing and few conference goers wore masks in line with health guidelines.

Sports, theatre, concerts, weddings, corporate events and exhibitions are meant to adhere to Maltese health department guidelines, which say: “Admittance shall be exclusively on presentation of a valid vaccination certificate”, and “organisers are to verify vaccine certificates by authentication with the system”.

A post-conference party on Wednesday was also shut by police just before midnight due to a lack of COVID-19 mitigation measures, according to the Malta Independent newspaper.

The party, sponsored by supplier Pragmatic Play, featured the singer Akon.

Akon, a Senegalese-American singer and music producer, has said he has funding commitments to create an Akon City in Senegal, which will use the cryptocurrency “Akoin”.

SiGMA organisers did not respond to requests for comment on the conference, nor did Pragmatic Play.

But to the Times of Malta, SiGMA officials said the event followed "strict procedures" and said security personnel were told to encourage mask-wearing indoors.

They said that a second venue was set up to ensure a better flow of attendees, corridors between exhibitors were widened, 10,000 hand sanitisers were distributed during the conference and maskless delegates were given a mask during registration.

Anyone seen not wearing a mask was also asked to do so by security personnel, the organisers told the newspaper.

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