Online gaming employees spend millions on property in Malta, leisure

David Darmanin, Malta Today reporting:

They’re single, live in flash apartments, and earn thousands of euros every month: iGaming employees live it up, DAVID DARMANIN from Malta Today finds out:

The online gaming industry’s direct contribution to the Maltese economy this year has amounted to €15.6 million, according to government statistics.

But a gaming executive based in Malta has said the figure is likely to be as much as €30 million, when taking into account the spending of the industry’s highly-paid staff.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Aj Thompson, the Chief Operating Officer of Malta-based gaming company Tain Operations, said the figure published by the finance minister was only “taxable revenue, not counting the value left here by people working in this industry”.

“According to studies we conducted, the added value left by employees in this sector is generally the same as the amount gained by the exchequer in taxes from the same industry,” he explained.

“So if €15.6 million were gained in taxes, what the country has earned is effectively double that.”
Tain employs 46 people with an average age of 26. “A lot of them are single, rent out apartments in Malta on their own at higher budgets than usual, spend money on entertainment, clothes and other goods,” he said.
Although 70% of the team employed by Thompson is Maltese, the normal scale in this industry is 30% to 40% Maltese.

A lot of companies here were already established abroad and relocated along with their core staff, but these will be eventually replaced by Maltese – who tend to be more loyal and less willing to move around,” he explained. “Maltese people are happier to stay in Malta.”

Without doubting the benefits recovered by the local economy from this industry, Thompson warned of a “huge risk” as this industry could very well be creating a false economy.

“When we got here, the average wage in other sectors was of €800 to €950, and we were paying €1,400 to €1,650,” he said. “This meant that people had money to spend, which implies a risk because this industry moves from one place to another, and it can. If its benefits are taken off, a company will consider other destinations where the conditions are better. In Malta the VAT benefit for these companies was already taken away and this has hurt a number of players, because it’s 18% we’re talking about.”

Just to give an idea of how fast this industry can move, Thompson explains how he relocated Tain Operations from Curacao, in the Caribbean, to Costa Rica overnight. This industry is fragile, and there are only a few places from where it can operate, namely Albany, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Costa Rica, Curacao, Antigua and Australia.”

Nowadays, the average salaries at Tain stand at €1,900-€2,000 monthly for the junior staff, although Thompson said they also “have people making €10,000 a month.”

Over the past months, the number of iGaming companies registered in Malta reached 330 – employing around 2,500 – of which those specialised “command a more attractive package” according to the Lotteries and Gaming Authority.

Meanwhile, market leaders in retailing and property letting estimate the added value left by this new population of employees to be very high.

Federation of Estate Agents President Ian Casolani said that “scarily enough, the rental market very much depends on iGaming employees nowadays,” with budgets that range from a minimum of €350 to €6,000 per month. The norm, says Casolani, ranges between €600 and €1,000 monthly.

Philip Fenech, president of the GRTU’s tourism sector, says what iGaming employees leave into the fiscal system “is very, very substantial”.

“Much of the money earned by staff in this sector goes through our system – bars, hotels, supermarkets and other retail establishments. Although the crisis hit many sectors, gaming was minimally hit. My reports are that these temporary foreigners are considered to be tourists on a long holiday, when one considers the way they spend in leisure. My reports come from gyms, restaurants, fashion outlets, supermarkets, clubs and other forms of leisure. They live it up here. They produce wealth and they enjoy wealth.”

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