Roger A. Strickland Jr., CSB Group Director for online gaming and business development, speaks to Malta Focus about why the region is the hub of online gaming and how it adapted successfully to the challenges presented by the coronavirus.
The regulatory landscape in Malta
Malta was the first European Union (EU) country to enact sector-specific gaming regulations, which is now more than 14 years ago. These regulations over the course of those years have changed considerably to adapt to technology that evolves on an ongoing basis and to the ever-changing needs and ways of operating of online providers and gaming operators. Furthermore, there has been a huge emphasis on new products, game types and services offered to an increasingly more demanding audience. I have worked in the iGaming industry for the past 14 years so I have experienced iGaming since its inception in Malta and it has been quite interesting to witness the developments in this sector over time.
If you look at what instigated development in the last 14 years, technology is certainly a strong element whereby it gave operators the opportunity to offer a wider variety of games, not just casino and slots. With technology changing faster than regulation, the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) obviously had to adapt in a prompt manner. In fact, our regulations were changed in 2018 and became more in tune with the new technological and game vertical choice advancements and developments taking place in the industry.
From a regulatory perspective, over the past 2 years we have witnessed considerable changes from the MGA in the regulatory and compliance fronts. This significant compliance drive bolstered the reputation of a Malta License stamping firmly Malta's intention to strengthen its institutions credibility but more importantly to re-engage new and serious prospects to consider licencing on Malta. Malta's online gaming industry has gone from strength-to-strength over the past 14 years, admittedly, not without any hiccups, however, the collective efforts from all stakeholders have ensured that Malta's iGaming ecosystem grew, flourished and strengthened. One of the prime reasons for this is definitely the regulatory landscape the MGA built coupled with a pro-active Government investing in sectors that gave value added services and which resonated across various local industries.
A proactive gaming authority key
Having dealt with the Malta Gaming Authority on behalf of our iGaming clients licence applications for many years now, I firmly believe that the knowledge factor and professionalism that has grown within the Authority is tantamount to the success that it has achieved. The MGA has evolved tremendously over the years and having dealt with other state authorities across Europe I can firmly say that it commands respect in the sector as being a leader and pioneer in gaming regulation. The authority is approachable and proactive in assisting clients.
Malta as the hub of gaming
With Malta's history in gaming and the influx of operators who have moved here, it is looking extremely promising, especially with the online spike witnessed by the industry over the past year. In essence, what we have here, is an ecosystem made up of different 'players' or members forming the online gaming industry as we know it. Most of the major operators in the industry have relocated to Malta and iGaming accounts for around 12% of the Island's GDP. Malta has established itself as a hub for gaming and the combination of different industries coming together has created a perfect environment for gaming operators to thrive in.
Malta best placed to deal with the pandemic.
I have always been extremely impressed with the speed of how gaming companies can change so quickly in order to adapt to jurisdiction and licensing scenarios. Now we are living a situation where everyone had to change the way they work. The pandemic created a block to sporting events for a while but operators switched to virtual sports and e-sports. A shift was also seen towards Casino products and again operators worked tirelessly to increase the products and games on offer. Retention of customers was now key and operators ensured that customers kept coming back for more entertainment.
From a local Human Resources perspective, most remote gaming employees always had the opportunity to work from home. Even before the pandemic, there were options for employees to work from home 2 or 3 days a week because the nature of the job for some people at least, allows it, even if face-to-face meetings and contact are occasionally required. You can have a perfectly good meeting on video conferencing apps so it was just a matter of adapting to the situation with new technology that acts as the essence and backbone of a gaming business.
I believe that during the pandemic, the industry in Malta has adapted extremely well to the new online landscape, and being a leader of innovation, it had less adapting to do compared to other industries. Of course, it had its challenges and there were moments the pandemic created delays but this also applied to authorities worldwide who would have also experienced a slowdown at a certain point. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was a case of "is this really happening" but as we moved through it, people started to accept the new reality and come up with solutions.
Adapting for long-term success
In terms of lasting trends, companies have realised that even with team members working remotely, work still gets done and productivity is equally high. We have witnessed numerous companies that switched to a remote working strategy and are considering to apply same arrangements even post-pandemic. When you look at trade shows, a lot of these events were held virtually and a lot of them have been very successful. That could also have a long-lasting effect when it comes to future tradeshows and events in the industry because people have realised that if they are innovative and clever about how they work, they could save time and money but increase productivity and staff retention. Personally speaking, I have always been in business development and I like to meet face-to-face and I sincerely hope that we can soon go back to conducting business in this way.
For businesses that were solely offering a single vertical and which undoubtedly got impacted by the pandemic, then definitely the way forward for them is to diversify and look at other verticals which they will be capable of using to their advantage should another pandemic take hold in the future, God forbid.
This interview was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of Gambling Insider: Malta Focus.
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