The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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Two decades on

Sunday, 15 May 2022, 08:00 Last update: about 3 years ago

James Scicluna, Member of The Malta Chamber and Co-managing partner, WH Partners

Clearly, the importance of the igaming industry to Malta's economy shouldn't be underestimated. The corollary, of course, is that neither can it be taken for granted.

It is heartening to have business leaders in the sector describe this country as their business' home. Like my colleagues and I, so many of them have lived through the birth, adolescence and young adulthood of this industry in Malta.

It has been twenty years since this sector was born, and the industry has matured since then. Through continuous stakeholder efforts, the ecosystem in which the igaming industry thrives remains fertile. But we can aim for even higher heights. To do so, and to do so sustainably, we are obliged to always put our best foot forward. Let's face it, in a fast-moving, highly competitive environment, nothing less than excellence will do. Excellence in every sense.

I think of Malta's igaming ecosystem as multi-layered, each layer complementing and strengthening the others. There's the solid regulatory framework, piloted by a focused and on the-ball regulator which we, thankfully, have. There are key areas of licensing with much prospect for growth such as in B2B, as well as the appeal of Malta's B2C regulations for international (now mostly non-European) markets. There's also Malta's openness to Maltese companies operating with licenses from other EU member states, something which Malta must continue to embrace. This should include facilitating more quickly these companies' most highly qualified and senior people to work here

Crucially, there's also our standing as a competitive fiscal environment, an edge which needs to be protected and enhanced. Yet allow me to be optimistic on this front as well. I am hopeful that from the challenging reforms to corporate income tax recently referred to by Malta's finance minister Malta can still emerge at the top of the competitive heap.

Having said this, my optimism rests also on rather firm convictions of what needs to be done to meet current and future challenges. We urgently need to cultivate an environment which incentivizes local and foreign investment in young tech businesses, entrepreneurship and creativity. Business incubators and public funding are helpful, and kudos to Gaming Malta for having launched the Basecamp Incubator'.

A real game changer on this front would be the unlocking of private venture capital in this sector. It was encouraging to hear Malta minister for the economy announce how this government intends to address this matter by minting a new tech investment fund. We look forward to getting to grips with its mechanics and operations. My experience in this neck of the woods suggests that private capital needs to be, well, free. Investments in tech should be incentivised per se, irrespectively of the chosen investment vehicle or fund.

Injecting higher doses of investment in tech companies inevitably leads to more and more specialised training of their staff, and not just developers. It will inevitably percolate throughout their entire workforce - marketing, support services, payments, and finance. The added bonus to the sector and indeed to the country is that these new skills are often transferable across the whole tech ecosystem, igaming included.

There are already several homegrown businesses in this ecosystem. They and others should be encouraged to stay and prosper here, to invest their capital and rope in investors. I am hopeful Malta's tax reforms will be mindful of this too.

More broadly, we need to embrace the fact that so many people working in the igaming industry,  or having launched related businesses, have made Malta their home and not just their workplace. They seek what each one of us seeks - a good education for their children, reliable services all round, good quality housing, air and sea connectivity beyond our shore, some greenery and open space and a reasonable cost of living.

Malta ticks many of these boxes. But there is work to be done on others. Whose work is it? Granted, government has its boxes to tick, like getting Malta off the FATF grey list and intervening to stop more eyesores from being built. Yet it is not only the "government" which needs to tick the unticked boxes. Each entrepreneur, each landlord, and each service provider benefiting from the iGaming industry and the tech ecosystem more broadly should understand that it is only excellence and fairness will do.

In this sense, we have a collective responsibility to do our very best. It is the only way to ensure that in 20 years' time we can look back and pat ourselves on the back for Malta having been central to the igaming industry for 20 more successful years.

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