The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

Coronavirus will affect how iGaming sector will operate in future – network chairman

Giulia Magri Tuesday, 7 April 2020, 07:48 Last update: about 8 months ago

The coronavirus outbreak has changed all aspects of life and businesses around the world. Schools, restaurants and shops are closed, and many companies have taken to teleworking, as everyone has been advised to stay at home to contain the spread of the disease.

This too includes iGaming companies. Malta has become a hub for the iGaming sector, but now that all sports events are cancelled, concerns were raised about the gaming sector’s situation. The Malta Independent spoke to Enrico Bradamante, chairman of the iGaming European Network (iGEN) regarding the current situation iGaming companies are facing.

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iGEN is an industry trade association that was set up in 2018 and represents 21 leading iGaming companies based in Malta.

“The gaming sector is of course feeling an impact, as the majority of iGaming companies also offer sports betting. Currently, since most sporting events (football tournaments, the European championship, Wimbledon and the Olympics, etc.) are postponed or cancelled, such companies are experiencing a negative effect immediately, and are projecting so for the rest of the year.” However, Bradamante said operators are also experiencing increased interest for virtual sports and e-sports, and an increase in gambling on online casino products.

When asked whether companies have had to let go of employees, he said that there have been a handful of companies which unfortunately had to let go of staff. “We have seen certain companies having to let go of staff, but the numbers are very low, and the expectation is that these professionals will find new employment quite quickly since there still is a shortage of resources, especially for experienced staff.”

Over the past few weeks, the government has published three financial aid packages and measures to support businesses and safeguard jobs; yet by and large these measures do not apply to the online gaming sector (although they do apply to the landbased casinos and other gambling parlours which have been closed). “Whilst we are all affected by COVID-19, some businesses, such as airline services and tourism, went from being busy and thriving, to now having no business whatsoever,” said Bradamante. “So we understand that the government has placed priority on other businesses over the iGaming sector.” He said that iGEN are in regular dialogue with the authorities, keeping them up to date on the situation and explaining what is happening within the sector. He also said that the government is in discussions with the iGaming sector to see whether any financial aid can be provided.

The future of iGaming in Malta

Whilst one cannot predict when things will go back to normal, Bradamante said that everyone and every business will be impacted by COVID-19.

“When it comes to the gaming sector, I believe we will see a change in how gaming companies will structure their operations.” He said that the industry is flexible and fast-moving, and that seeing how efficient employees are whilst working from home, this might have an impact on how companies will distribute work in the future. “The majority of iGaming companies, like many other high-tech businesses, now have their employees working from home. Whilst this is a necessity right now, this might well have a lasting effect. We might see companies opting for smaller offices, so that a portion of the workforce will be based in the office, whilst the rest will work remotely, potentially on a rotation basis.” This would then have an impact on the demand for office space, and also for residential properties as some foreign employees might opt to stay in Malta whilst others might decide to go back to their countries of origin, he said.

Bradamante stressed that this does not mean companies will be leaving Malta. “As an industry, we are very committed to and comfortable with Malta as the home of gaming excellence, and we also feel an element of responsibility. The gaming sector is the second largest industry in Malta, right after tourism. We have the responsibility to keep going, especially during this time of uncertainty.”

This newsroom also sent questions to the Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services and the Digital Economy, Clayton Bartolo, regarding the situation and the effects it will have on the sector.

“The parliamentary secretariat is maintaining an open dialogue with all stakeholders in the sector whilst offering all the necessary help.” The parliamentary secretariat stressed that gaming in Malta is a very important economic pillar, and that before the crisis, its contribution to Malta’s GDP was equivalent to 13.6%.

“Needless to say, the full impact of COVID-19 on the country’s GDP is not easy to predict for the time being, even though the parliamentary secretary is informed that the MGA will shortly be conducting a survey amongst its licensees to get more statistical data. As a government, together with the stakeholders, we will be doing our outmost to safeguard this important economic niche.”

Photo: Alan Carville/Content House

 

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