The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

Maltese-owned gaming company hedging bets

Jeremy Micallef Sunday, 8 September 2019, 12:00 Last update: about 10 days ago

Jeremy Micallef speaks to Nikolai Livori – the founder, managing director and chief executive officer of the only Maltese-owned iGaming company, Yobetit – about unfair taxation and how a Maltese company is helping the community

Why did you decide to sponsor Pride?

Actually we haven’t only sponsored Pride. We’re a Maltese company so we try to help Maltese communities in areas such as animal welfare and sports, like the Phoenix Sports Club. We have sponsored about 15 feasts, the Mqabba fireworks and, now, Malta Pride.

We try to be out there, and if you look at our product, you will see that it’s for everyone.

We cannot, however, do a lot of marketing in Malta, we can only provide sponsorships because we have services that involve gambling.

 

Does being a Maltese-owned company in the gaming sector alter the dynamic of how you do business?

Since we’re an iGaming company, the general public thinks we’re either German, Swedish or Italian – they do not know that we are actually Maltese-owned.

The actual reason most of these foreign iGaming companies are in Malta is for tax purposes, and not for resources. Malta is lacking resources; we do not find people to hire and we also do not benefit from the five per cent corporate income tax foreign companies do. We, as a Maltese company, have to pay a 35 per cent rate, which is a big handicap.

I joined the gaming industry about 15 years ago, so getting my own company up and running was the next natural step.

 

Do you think this holds locals back from starting their own business; should this tax be amended?

It must change, but they won’t change it.

The reason they won’t change it is that they do it to attract foreign investment, so if they start doing it for Maltese businesses, then there would not be much tax left to collect if everyone paid a five per cent rate.

The hospitality sector or the retail sector, for example, cannot just change it around.

An idea I had presented to the government was to create an incentive for people to start online businesses because, taking our case as an example, 80 per cent of our market is in Sweden, and Malta is just a small fraction of our market.

 

Now that you mention Sweden, they've recently implemented some new legislation... has it affected you negatively as it did others?

Sweden created its own licensing framework, and we already have a licence in the country.

It was actually the other way around for us, our growth shot up by about 50 per cent last month.

The Malta Gaming Licence is only good for grey markets, such as those countries that are not licensed, like Germany and parts of Latin America.

With regard to our lotto, we share the market with Maltco and Jackpot.com. We have actually launched a new one now based on the Irish lottery.

The Maltese seem to love that and we need it to grow.

 

Do you find that we have a casino culture?

There doesn't seem to be a casino culture in Malta, but I think that it will grow, although we do have a turnover of 60 per cent casino and 40 per cent sports. Lotto is more marginal.

 

Being online must help?

We need to get the public to learn how to go online to get their lottery tickets. I remember reading an article where this woman lost her ticket and was claiming around a million euros – if she had bought it online then she would have had proof of the ticket in hand.

Most likely it’s due to habits – there’d be that day of the week where you go buy a lotto ticket.

You do find the younger generation is online though – just like the younger generation is more likely to use Netflix or Apple TV rather than watch traditional local stations.

 

Do you find any other obstacles to expanding your business?

Banks are also miles behind nowadays. Most likely some of the customers will be queried about the transactions because, for example, a lotto ticket could get marked down as gambling but this is no different to going to a Maltco shop and paying cash.

We suggest that our customers use Revolut – I use it myself.

Finding programmers is also an issue. If the market needs 1,000 programmers, and the university produces 100, we would obviously have to import our own and we have skilled people from Brazil, Venezuela, Italy, and South Africa among our ranks.

If the Maltese population is 400,000, then how many programmers can we possibly produce? Compare that with Sweden where they have a population of 10 million.

Luckily, we don’t suffer from a high turnover of employees because we’re not a very big team - we aim to be around 40 next year.

 

Why do you think people overlook the entertainment element?

There is this element, particularly with sports. Imagine you’re watching a live game and you can log onto your account from your phone and you can bet, there’s an element of entertainment there.

With the lottery, it’s more about hope because you’re risking €2 to win €5 million, so the chance of winning is much lower, but the return is much higher.

Other than that, right now the largest negative impact on the sector is not the gaming authorities’ fault, but mostly that of the European Union because every country is now regulating individually. If I need Danish customers, I’d need a licence in Denmark and so on and so forth.

Before, with a Maltese licence you could operate everywhere; now you can’t operate anywhere.

The whole idea behind the EU was that we can have the product or service in one country and sell it to everyone else. But the single market works for every industry, but not for gambling.

 

What good has come to Malta through this explosion of gaming companies?

We got a lot of foreign investment but, unfortunately, large companies are no longer opening here. That is because if their market is Sweden, they’re going to be spending their money and paying their taxes there, or they might create elaborate corporate structures.

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