Roundtable: Is the Future Bright for Malta as an iGaming Hub?

Despite a rise in the number of licenses issued by the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) in 2020, new license applications and total revenue dipped last year for the island’s regulator. Although Covid-19 will have been a factor, it does once again raise questions about the long-term future of Malta as an iGaming hub.

While some companies see the advantages in moving operations away from Malta, other firms continue to invest and open new office spaces on the island. We spoke to Vera Motto, Business Development Executive at Habanero, Ori Zilbershtein, Chief Business Development Officer at Hyperion Tech, and Anne Muscat Scerri, Head of HR at iSoftBet, to find out their thoughts on Malta’s iGaming future.

Q: Several industry observers have often suggested the bubble will burst for iGaming in Malta sooner rather than later. Do you believe this to be the case?

Ori Zilbershtein (OZ): We’re certainly seeing fewer benefits in being based on the island than in previous years. Rising costs of living is making it less attractive for people to relocate, and the general lack of talent available means companies either have to pay over the odds to secure experienced individuals or consider moving operations elsewhere.

Maltese firms were somewhat reluctant to introduce remote teams before the pandemic struck, but now more are embracing the hybrid office model and allowing staff to work from various parts of the world. The previous 12 months have shown that the majority of employees can be trusted to work from home and still collaborate with colleagues to maintain a sufficient product pipeline. It begs the question as to why a gambling company still needs a big presence in a small country like Malta. Certainly from a development perspective, building a team that works remotely is far more cost-effective.

Vera Motto (VM): No, we do not believe this will be the case, we’ve established ourselves in Malta in 2020, with our MGA in 2021, and our first office. We entered Malta with the belief that we are here for a good reason – we’re looking to invest plenty in our operations here, and it’s our long-term goal to stay and grow on the island.

We don’t believe that the bubble will burst anytime soon – certainly other locations are emerging in prominence, but Malta has its importance with good reason. Looking ahead, it’s easy to see why. Suppliers are going to need a Maltese hub for a long time as a base of operations, as this is the center of the gaming industry.

Anne Muscat Scerri (AMS): We don’t see this being the case, quite the opposite. We opened an office in the North Business Center in Sliema in 2019 and our operations and talent pool have rapidly grown ever since, with our success attracting some major hires including our heads of Marketing (CMO), Product (CPO), and Technology (CTO) to join us and commit to our vision: creating amazing gaming experiences. Our mission is to build quality gaming products (games, aggregation, and engagement tools) that inspire, innovate and entertain by always placing the player, our partners, and our people at the heart of everything we do.

We firmly believe Malta has a strong future as an international jurisdiction, not just for the iGaming industry, but also for other disruptive, innovative technology sectors such as blockchain, crypto, AI, and data-driven startups.

Q: With a product development skills shortage apparent, along with more firms embracing a hybrid office model, will iGaming companies look to downsize their presence on the island to save costs?

AMS: The pandemic has had a profound effect on global employment and made many companies re-evaluate how they work. Fortunately, our sector has been resilient, adapted, and thrived under these new conditions and technological changes. The last 18 months have also brought existing skill gaps to the surface, making it harder for companies to find suitable candidates and for these prospects to upskill. Despite this, we’re growing faster than ever and have no plans to downsize. The key is to recognize that we live in an era of digital transformation and offering flexibility to our workforce is essential. So much so that we have recently allowed all our staff to choose when they want to work from home or the office depending on their preferences.

As an agile company, we adhere to our values based on respect, passion, and curiosity with an emphasis on our people, their education, and their wellbeing. The changes the world has and is going through, have helped us develop an even closer bond, fostering strong team links and relying more than ever on collaboration.

To deliver this across our business and the industry we need to upskill our talent pool – focusing on creativity and flexibility is key for our tech teams for example. To drive innovation, teams need to be inspired and allowed to apply their creativity daily. As such, we prompt our teams to build on a ‘safe’ tech basis and to gradually step out of their comfort zones by straying away from what’s known as the “recipe of success” in the industry. The beauty of technology is that it opens so many doors to discovery and our main purpose as a team is to continually break new ground.

VM: They’ll need to fix the internet connectivity first! Nothing beats face-to-face meetings and being such a small space, it’s the perfect place for networking. Of course, it’s true that some areas such as customer support and gaming development have a skills shortage, and we’re seeing that outsourced to other places by some companies. However, as far as the commercial facing business is concerned, there are plenty more resources in Malta for this, as nothing can beat a quality contacts list, friends in the industry, and the ability to be known to everybody on the island. This also makes it easy for us to stay in Malta due to having a global team that can provide us with plenty of resources elsewhere, while we focus on introducing our casino friends here to the wonderful world of Habanero.

OZ: That’s a real possibility. It’s likely we’ll see operations downscaled to sales and marketing departments only having a presence on the island. The reality is that a huge number of people have embraced the working from home culture and want to continue with a similar setup moving forward. When you think of the skills shortage, there’s no question that utilizing talent from other parts of the world makes sense and can now be achieved more easily.

Office spaces can still be used for key meetings and training sessions, but there’s simply no need to be there for the whole week. I’m sure many iGaming firms are considering cheaper locations than Malta in order to new and smaller office spaces.

Q: Tell us about your company’s operations in Malta – are you committed to having a presence within this iconic hub, or see value in moving more operations to other locations?

VM: We’re just getting started! We’re very committed to growing our presence there – and we don’t see that changing anytime soon as for us, it makes excellent business sense to be at the heart of Europe’s online casino capital. Of course, we don’t have all our eggs in one basket, we do have other locations that team Habanero operates from – but as far as business development, commercial-facing activities, and flying the flag with our MGA license, we’re very much in it for the long-term and are delighted to be here!

OZ: We’re committed to working alongside companies in Malta and providing a cost-effective solution to the ongoing skills shortage they face. Those that embrace a long-term future of remote working and a hybrid office model are in a strong position to grow faster than those who simply commit to hiring individuals from just one geographic location. At Hyperion Tech, we take great pride in building successful teams for multiple clients. Companies have the advantage of tapping into a huge pool of technical talent to take their operations to new heights.

AMS: We are fully committed to our Malta hub and have seen it thrive in the last three years despite the challenges the pandemic has brought. We are a key part of the community and the gaming industry here with our teams fully integrated into the Maltese way of life which offers so many benefits. Our flexible approach has seen productivity soar and enabled our teams to see just how much we value their contribution and commitment to not only iSoftBet but also to Malta as a premier gaming jurisdiction and a place to settle for the mid to long term.

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