The Malta Independent 2 April 2020, Thursday

Too quick to repeat and condemn

Thursday, 13 February 2020, 15:32 Last update: about 3 months ago

A short press release by the Department of Information had us as its target last week.

It said: "Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services and Digital Economy Clayton Bartolo denies reports published in the local media with regards to LeoVegas' investments in Malta. During meetings held with LeoVegas' Chief Financial Officer, the company reconfirmed its commitment and investment in Malta.

"Any other media report should not be taken into account."

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And adding a partisan note, the press release was titled: "In its current state of panic, the opposition now attacks private investors"

There are a number of points to be made in this regard.

1.     This paper has nothing to do with the Opposition, does not share information with it, does not take orders from it and, being a business paper, it obviously does not attack private investors as long as they operate within the law.

2.     The new parliamentary secretary, like others before him, has adopted a 'shoot first, ask later' approach with the media.

The story in brief: this paper carried a story last week regarding LeoVegas. The story was in the public domain and available to all. It said, inter alia, "The provider of online casino games and sports betting LeoVegas announced the restructuring of its operations in the United Kingdom and the cancellation of its plans to expand its office in Malta. The measure is part of the company's strategy to control its costs.

"The Swedish operator mentioned as part of its plan a series of 'strategic measures in the United Kingdom and related cost initiatives', including the recent withdrawal of the Royal Panda online casino brand from that market.""

The report added: "Last year, the Leo Vegas payroll was reduced by a hundred jobs, the company said, so its plans to move to a larger headquarters in Malta in 2021 were cancelled. According to LeoVegas, this will reduce the company's annual expenses by about € 1.7 million.

"LeoVegas estimates that with these restructuring plans, the company will save about € 3.7m per year. In the short term, the restructuring will cost approximately € 6.1m, which will be reflected in the results of the company's 4th quarter of 2019 that ends on February 14."

The story was reported on specialist media all over the world: LeoVegas outlines strategic changes for UK operations (SBC News last month); LeoVegas cancels plans in Malta and restructures its operations in UK (Tunf.com News); LeoVegas abandons Malta move in cost-saving bid (Bestbetting sites UK, six days ago) etc.

But Parliamentary Secretary Bartolo, in his first outing as PS, went to ICE, and suitably impressed, met LeoVegas Chief Financial Officer (the Maltese translation of the press release omits this detail) who reassured him and reconfirmed the company's commitment and investment in Malta. The PS hurried to tell Malta that all's well with the plan, it was only the Nats doing their worst to run down Malta.

He obviously did not take time to check the international media and although he may have asked questions, took the CFO's reassurance as Gospel truth.

Since ICE, not one international source has withdrawn what had previously been said. Nor has the CFO's reassurance appeared anywhere except a small 'sponsored article' on The Times of Malta and a short appearance on One News.

On the contrary, the LeoVegas investor relations page on the company's official site includes the announcement that the planned relocation to Malta has been called off. And yet the CFO was still telling the PS and The Times that Malta will still be at the heart of the company.

Now obviously if the company has a change of heart and does relocate to Malta, we will all be happy and wish them well. We wish them well also if they decide not to come.

But we would wish that a novel PS does his homework before speaking and does not take reassuring noises from foreign investors at face value. 
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