Malta is buzzing. What was once a quiet, sleepy island nestled in the Mediterranean Sea has blossomed into the booming epicentre of European iGaming.
Its appeal as a destination is immediately apparent to anyone who's ever stepped foot onshore. Bathed in the sunshine over 300 days of the year, this historic archipelago has a hell of a lot to offer over its diminutive 246 square km of rugged coastline, enchanting towns, and idyllic beaches. Some of the oldest temples in the world call Malta home - worth checking out if you're something of a history buff.
It was also home to Napoleon Bonaparte for a brief period in history - one in a long line of high profile conquerors who have navigated Malta's crystal clear azure waters, each leaving their own indelible imprint on the island.
If you're of a religious nature, you might be thrilled to learn Malta houses around 365 churches - one for each day of the year. Regardless of your tastes or allegiances, you'll never tire of the nation's rich history and proud cultural heritage.
But it's not all ancient relics and sun-kissed seascapes. The island has clearly been doing something right over the past 20 years to attract top iGaming talent to its shores.
Some of the biggest names in iGaming have set up shop on Malta over the past decade, enticed by various factors that combine to elevate Malta above competing locations.
Illustrating this industry's huge worth to the island's economy, iGaming Malta companies alone contributed €1.56bn to Government coffers in 2019 - a 9.6% uptick on the previous year. That total is exceeded only by retail, accommodation, and food as the top contributing private sectors - a sure measure of the iGaming industry's footing.
Home to 300 Licensed iGaming Companies
iGaming is riding the crest of a wave in Malta, with brand new license applications tendered constantly by onlooking outfits eyeing their slice of the pie. According to the regulator, 2019 saw 89 license applications submitted, of which just over half were granted - taking the total number of licensed companies operating out of Malta to just shy of 300.
Succeeding in such a crowded market demands excellence in iGaming marketing if companies are serious about rising above the competition. and Malta's packed iGaming calendar of network exhibitions allow firms to do just that.
iGaming conferences gather operators, suppliers, and affiliates all under one roof for a multi-day networking extravaganza, giving suppliers the ideal platform to showcase their products and services to a captive audience.
Not only do events like SiGMA and MiGEA celebrate the industry's movers and shakers, but they also foster a culture of collaboration as well-connected industry players convene to share ideas, thrash out business proposals and agree on lucrative seven-figure deals that could shape the course of the iGaming landscape.
As a side-mention, the events' unmissable no-expense-spared after-parties are something to behold - but that's a topic for another day!
Unfortunately, like countless others, the entire iGaming industry remains at the mercy of COVID-19. Most of the events planned for 2021 have been shelved altogether or put on the backburner, victims of a pandemic whose effects are far-reaching.
Thankfully, plenty of virtual events have already stepped up to fill the void this year. Though lacking the full human touch, these interactive sessions provide operators with an inside peak of supplier product roadmaps, while stimulating conversation around hot iGaming topics.
What is iGaming's Big Appeal?
iGaming represents an exciting, dynamic industry choice for an increasing number of job-seekers, and there aren't many better places to ply your trade than Malta.
iGaming's governing authority reports that across the board, the industry's 9,000 workers saw their salaries rise 11% YoY in 2019 - far outpacing rival sectors as graduates and established professionals alike took advantage of the competitive job market there.
If the intoxicating mix of year-round sunshine, island living and exceptional work-life balance doesn't quite cut it, then how about an entry-level starting salary of €35,000? That's the rough pay newcomers to the iGaming scene can expect once they get started in Malta, and compares favourably with similar posts placed elsewhere in Europe.
Increased demand for iGaming jobs has also stimulated the island's housing market, to the point where a select few estate agents and freelance realtors now provide services catering solely to iGaming tenants.
Viewed together, and Malta's magnetic pull starts to become clear. Add a buoyant property market to its relatively low cost of living, and what you get is a place offering exceptional value whose benefits run way deeper than surface level.
Anyone looking to enhance their iGaming job prospects when they get here, or simply sharpen their toolset, can avail of the island's specialist service, the iGaming Academy. Catering to a cross-section of business types, from online casino operators to iGaming affiliates, this purpose-built centre for excellence was created to furnish prospective employees with adequate training and development required to forge a successful career in the industry. More recently, a new initiative labelled Why iGaming was set up to aid native citizens to crack the iGaming industry while plugging holes in the labour market.
Today, the average iGaming business in Malta is set up just like any traditional business entity. The value chain is represented by a gamut of functions like Support, Sales, Marketing, IT, HR, Legal, Product, Engineering, and more. Resultantly, Malta's labour market is now in rude health, benefitting from a ready supply of world-leading talent across a range of sectors.
Malta: A World-leading Digital Hub
This influx of foreign skilled labour has spilt over into other fast-growing sectors like FinTech and in particular, the burgeoning cryptocurrency scene. It has also helped enrich the diverse expatriate community, which has little trouble integrating itself into the slow-paced Maltese way of life. All of this is made easier with English as the nation's official second language. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone on the island who doesn't possess at least a basic command of the global language.
Keeping pace with the growing demand in digital services, Malta's telecommunications infrastructure has undergone extensive development in recent years. Robust telecommunications are absolutely critical for iGaming outfits who rely on the very fastest processing speeds that enable them to process millions of transactions every single day.
Together, these elements mark Malta out as a leading player on the international stage. As a global force in the iGaming space. Mightily impressive for a nation that only has only known independence for less than half a century since the Brits packed up and left, and, moreover, inhabited by the lowest population of all EU member states.
So how did this tiny island, ruled at one time by Brits, Romans, Arabs and French, to name a few, turn itself into a thriving iGaming mecca?
Creating a Favourable iGaming Industry Climate
Let's start with the island's dedicated iGaming regulatory body, the MGA (Malta Gaming Authority).
One of the most respected gaming authorities in the world, the MGA has been a significant catalyst in putting Malta on the map. In 2004, Malta became the very first EU member state to usher in regulations governing remote gambling - thanks in no small part to the efforts of its governing body.
First mover advantage proved critical in gaining the upper hand over rival jurisdictions, catapulting Malta to the very forefront of the global market. Committed to protecting its enviable position, the MGA continues to develop its regulatory framework often.
An MGA-accredited license is considered the 'gold standard' for any existing iGaming business, as well as those looking to establish a foothold in the international market. Formed in 2001, the MGA is principally charged with ensuring fairness and transparency, while safeguarding against crime and money laundering. Its functions are wide-ranging and include ensuring the integrity of games via audits, monitoring activities to keep games and funds out of criminal reach, and providing guidance throughout the license application process.
The MGA has worked tirelessly to create a favourable business climate for potential operators through various cost-saving initiatives.
A Malta B2C (Business to Customer) license, for example, comes with a price tag of €25,000 - significantly lower than fees quoted by iGaming regulators further afield. Malta-licensed iGaming outfits can also avail of business-friendly tax rates that clock in at just 5% - easily the lowest rate offered anywhere in Europe. What's more, tax credits are issued to companies dedicated to iGaming areas of research and development, as further incentive to (re)locate their operations there.
In return, iGaming's collective workforce has contributed handsomely to Government coffers in recent years. Industry spend accounted for 12%-13% of the entire Maltese GDP in 2019, in what has become a win-win situation for both sides. It is clear the MGA did their homework in positioning Malta as an ideal operational hub for iGaming enterprises. Build it, as they say, and they will come.
iGaming License Types
The starting point for many iGaming businesses in Malta is their operating license. And to ensure all business verticals are catered for, the country's licensing program is comprehensive and robust. Consisting of four main license types, it allows a broad range of iGaming operators to legally offer their services out of the country. Each license class sets out the the parameters in which a iGaming company can operate, depending on the nature of their business and product vertical.
Valid for a period of 10 years, here are the four main classes of iGaming license issued by the MGA:
The most common license is acquired by operators offering games of chance where the outcome is determined by an RNG (Random Number Generator). If a Malta-based company provides online slots, along with other casino style games, or lotteries, they belong in this category. It's no surprise to learn that Class 1 games bring in the biggest amount of revenue, accounting for 56.0% all iGaming spend in 2019.
Class 2 licenses are granted to iGaming companies offering games of chance whose result is based on an event or competition. Whenever you place a bet on a soccer match, for example, your wager is likely to be accepted by a company holding a Class 2 license. Sports betting operators typically all hold this type of license.
Operators that generate revenue by generating commission-based revenue lie in Class 3. Think of online poker operators running on P2P (Peer-to-Peer) networks and firms that provide betting exchanges inhabiting this tier.
Finally, Class 4 licenses are reserved for iGaming firms who offer controlled skill games. Skill games in this regard are those considered by the MGA as posing additional risks to consumers - like fantasy sports. As such, such licenses are often subject to further regulatory supervision on the part of the authority.
As of 2019, over 20m people held active accounts with licensed iGaming firms operating out of Malta. That represents a 12.7% year-on-year rise - underlining the industry's blistering growth.
It goes without saying that every iGaming destination has their relative pros and cons, but Malta has done all it can to give itself a fighting chance of emerging a frontrunner.
We've touched upon the efforts of the MGA in establishing Malta as a leading global hub for iGaming. But what else makes the country such a desirable location for iGaming organisations and their employees alike?
For one, Malta offers an unrivalled standard of living. The alluring combination of sun, sea and sand on tap has proved an irresistible draw for hordes of iGaming professionals who have since migrated there.
Then there's its strategic geographic location. Situated 182KM from the southern tip of Sicily, Malta famously boasts over 300 days of sunshine per year, making it the perfect destination for sun-worshipping iGaming professionals. Take a walk round any coastal footpath to absorb its breathless scenery, and if you fancy cooling off, take a dip in some of the cleanest seas in Europe.
Many have decided to swap colder climes of the likes of Scandinavia for an island drenched in sunshine, where the nearest shoreline is always within walking distance. If densely populated seaside towns are your idea of hell, tranquil countryside is never more than a bicycle ride away.
Malta's close proximity to Europe is also conducive to inter-continental business, which is expected to pick back up once global vaccine roll-outs gain momentum.
Striking a Work-life Balance
Successful modern-day companies place enormous value on promoting a healthy work-life balance. Providing their personnel ample time to pursue leisure activities outside of the workplace is borne out in increased productivity levels, as well as improved staff retention rates.
This is an area where again, Malta finds itself out in front. For professionals who have only ever known the monotony of inner-city life, the island represents the ultimate escape from the soulless rat race. Within just a few days' of relocating, fresh migrants are likely to experience reductions in their stress levels, increases in leisure time - and enhancements to skin tan!
Compared to a lot of European countries, the crime rate in Malta is remarkably low, too. Maltese residents are known to leave their doors unlocked at night - a practice unthinkable across most swathes of the continent. On top of this, its healthcare system is regarded as one of the best in Europe.
Malta clearly possesses all the ingredients of a world-leading iGaming hub - making it a highly desirable place to live for iGaming professionals of all ages. Despite the global downturn sparked by COVID-19, its industry continues to surge ahead at pace, supported by a robust regulatory environment that offers unrivalled incentives for potential iGaming enterprises.