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Interview with Hon. Dr. José Herrera

SiGMA recently sat down with the Hon. Dr José Herrera, Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness and Growth, to discuss the current situation of remote gaming in Malta, as well as the latest developments aimed at strengthening and expanding the industry locally.

When asked whether he thinks if Malta can lay claim to the title of the Silicon Valley of remote gaming, the Hon. Dr Herrera starts off by reminding how Malta established itself a major player in the industry in just 15 years, partly thanks to its competitiveness in offering the type of financial services remote gaming companies seek.

The basis of Malta’s success can be found in the quality of the human resources available locally. In fact, the gaming industry currently employs 9,000 people, not counting the variety of secondary services used by gaming companies, including marketing and data hosting.

The effect this has on the Maltese economy is significant. Gaming contributes to 12% of the GDP, two-thirds of which is accounted for by remote gaming. Moreover, the igaming industry injects €60 million annually to the national coffers through direct taxation.

The Hon. Dr Herrera reassures companies and potential investors, that Malta takes the needs of the igaming industry very seriously. There are currently discussions underway between the University of Malta, the Lotteries and Gaming Authority (LGA) and a foreign academic institution on the possibility of setting up an Academy of Gaming, which will provide specialised training courses in igaming to supply the industry with the skilled workforce it requires.

Besides investing in the local workforce, the Maltese government intends to set up Gaming Malta, an organisation tasked exclusively with the mission of promoting Malta abroad as an igaming hub and attract quality investment to the islands. Its objectives will be focused exclusively on promoting the igaming industry in Malta and encouraging more companies to establish themselves in this country.

The Hon. Dr Herrera emphasises that Gaming Malta will not impinge on the regulatory aspect of the business, an aspect which will remain firmly within the LGA’s scope. The two institutions will therefore complement each other, and igaming companies will be able to benefit from more personalised attention to their needs. This situation parallels what has already been done very successfully with Malta Enterprise, which focuses on attracting foreign business, and the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) which regulates the sector.

In the course of the interview, the Hon. Dr Herrera also touched upon the role of the Responsible Gaming Foundation. This institution has two main scopes: to help various NGOs in Malta using funds donated by gaming companies, this is similar to work done by the Good Causes Fund, and also to embark on education campaigns that raise awareness about illegal gambling and help vulnerable people who are who are addicted to gambling.

As part of the government’s efforts to look at the industry from a holistic perspective, the liberalisation of casino licences on superyachts and cruise liners will make it easier for vessels registered in Malta to operate their casinos without incurring additional fees. Such large vessels, measuring 24 metres and above, will therefore avoid having to pay the full casino license.

This move will combine two of Malta’s strengths – Malta currently has the fifth largest vessel register in the world – to create a unique and very desirable opportunity for yacht owners to register their vessels in this country and benefit from a well-developed and progressive legislative framework in remote gaming. Additionally, the redomiciliation of registered companies will be made easier in order to encourage more companies to take advantage of this opportunity.

Regulation-wise, the government, in collaboration with the LGA, is taking a proactive role in introducing legislation that regularises the use of cryptocurrencies. This could potentially make Malta the first country in the European Union to take this bold step and set an example which other countries are bound to follow, resulting in better international regularisation of digital currencies which will in turn enable igaming companies to provide a more secure service to their customers.

When asked if he thinks that Malta still has potential to grow its reach in the igaming market or whether a saturation point is imminent, the Hon. Dr Herrera replied that there is still a lot of scope for expansion left and that an outreach program has has been set up to entice more investors from Asia and South America to move their operations to Malta.

Ultimately, Malta has to be a leading force in finding innovative solutions to present and future challenges facing the industry. The Hon. Dr Herrera is positive that this is already the case and, thanks to the local political consensus on the importance of the igaming industry, Malta’s success story has far from reached a conclusion yet.

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