Malta. 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.
There's a long history of famous conquerors who have left their mark on Maltese soil, with Napoleon Bonaparte being just one in an unbroken line that stretches back centuries.
The more religious amongst may be pleasantly surprised to discover that Malta is home to 365 churches - so you could actually visit a new place of worship every single day of the year if you felt like it. Whatever your preferences, you can't help by moved by the rich history of this proud nation.
There's much more to the island than near year-round sun and history-steeped buildings, though. Malta has also been making huge strides over the last two decades in the hunt for talented iGaming professionals.
Some of the industry's biggest players have chosen Malta as their home throughout the past 10 years, thanks to a combination of factors.
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 booming in Malta. Licenses continue to be tendered constantly by companies keen to seize their piece of this lucrative pie. The Maltese regulator reports receiving 89 separate licenses in 2019, with more than half of those successfully awarded. The number of companies holding full Maltese operational licenses currently stands at ~300 - and counting.
The iGaming market is a crowded one, and it demands excellence from companies looking to rise above the competition. The Maltese calendar of network exhibitions provides an opportunity for firms in this industry do just that with its packed schedule.
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.
The industry is an exciting place to be, with events like SiGMA and MiGEA designed to foster collaboration amongst thought leaders. Additionally, conference attendees are encouraged to share ideas that could well define the future of the iGaming landscape.
As a side-mention, the events' unmissable no-expense-spared after-parties are a plesaure-seeker's paradise - 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.
According to the industry's governing body in Malta, iGaming saw the salaries of some of its 9,000 workers increase Year-on-Year by 11% - a pay hike way higher than competing sectors as large numbers of graduates continue to consider iGaming as a potentially well-paid and enjoyable career option.
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.2
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.
iGaming companies in Malta are set up with all the usual functions of more traditional business entities, with people employed in areas including Support, Marketing, IT, Sales, Product, Legal, and HR. Subsequently, Malta's labour market is thriving, owing to an influx of talented workers representing a range of fields.
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.
The second class of categories awards licenses to those outfits offering games of chance where the outcome is likely to centre on some sort of event or competition. Placing a bet on a sports match, for example, will usually be processed by a Class 2 license holder. In that light, these licenses are normally granted to sports betting operators.
This class categorises operators whose profits are generated by commission-based revenue. Poker operators relying on P2P networks as well as betting firms powering their own exchanges are likely to belong to Class 3.
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.
The Maltese government has done everything in its power to give itself a fighting chance of emerging as one of the leaders within iGaming on the global stage.
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.
The fact that Malta is so close to Europe makes it an excellent destination for business with regards to trans-border transactions. Once global vaccine roll outs pick up momentum, this will be even truer!
Striking a Work-life Balance
It is no surprise that companies who provide their employees with a healthy work-life balance experience greater productivity and staff retention rates. The modern day business owner knows how important it can be to take time away from the computer screen, whether you're looking for adventure or just need some peace in order accomplish your goals at home!
Maltese culture is one of the most welcoming and hospitable in all Europe. In a world where people are looking for something new, it's exciting to be able explore this island that offers so much more than just ancient history!
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!
Malta boasts one of the lowest Maltese crime rates in all of Europe. Residents love to leave their doors unlocked at night - something that would be unimaginable across most parts of Europe. On top of this, it has one if the best healthcare systems on the continent.
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.