nrico Bradamante, chairman of the iGaming European Network (iGEN), said the gaming sector in Malta is feeling an impact, as the majority of iGaming companies also offer sports betting and most sports events are cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. iGEN is an industry trade association that was set up in 2018 and represents 21 leading iGaming companies based in Malta.
“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,” Bradamante said in an interview this week with The Malta Independent. However, he said operators are also experiencing increased interest for virtual sports and eSports, and an increase in gambling on online casino products.
In addition, iGEN chairman said they 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 Malta 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 land-based casinos and other gambling parlours that 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,” Bradamante said. “So we understand that the government has placed priority on other businesses over the iGaming sector.”
He said that iGEN is 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.
Looking ahead, 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,” Bradamante said. 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 added.
However, Bradamante noted 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.”
The Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services and the Digital Economy, Clayton Bartolo, also referred to 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,” he told The Malta Independent. 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 utmost to safeguard this important economic niche,” Bartolo concluded.