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Iosif Galea: take that independence and make it permanent

ConnectPay has started new content series – Expert opinion – where our partners, acknowledged experts in their field, will share their insights, expertise and advice on various topics. Today we start with a COVID 19 and its consequences related interview with Iosif Galea – a compliance specialist and well recognized legal consultant working with online gaming for over a decade.

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Let‘s start with your direct field – you help companies  to obtain iGaming and betting licenses with MGA (Malta Gaming Authority) – how has the process changed due to the virus? Any key learnings adapted promptly by the government offices in Malta?

MGA took heed of all relevant developments and is constantly proposing adequate and proportionate measures. The MGA issued notices and directives to its licensees that, in accordance with the Commercial Communications Regulations to which they are subject, all commercial communications must be socially responsible, especially in the light of the current situation. Any direct or indirect reference to Covid-19 or any related circumstance would be considered to amount to a breach of this regulation. The MGA has also implemented the temporary measure of accepting all submissions relative to operator reporting and applications for new gaming licenses in soft copy.

Since the MGA is one of the most reputable regulators, I genuinely believe that due to the current COVID 19 lockdown, safer gambling has become more important than ever to the regulator. The COVID 19 lockdown proved to be a mental and financial challenging situation for players, igaming operators and anyone else involved in the industry hence the same pandemic has led to heightened risks of gambling related harm.

Increasing safer gambling measures introduced by regulators with more monitoring and customer interventions, stepping up safer gambling messages and measures like promoting deposit limits, together with a tough crackdown on affiliates and calling out rogue black-market operators are the things that will make a difference during and after the pandemic period.

How has the virus impacted the European gaming industry?

Firstly, with the cancellation of sporting events around the world, operators with sports betting operations have effectively lost an entire product betting portfolio overnight.

Secondly, with lockdowns in effect in many European countries, sports retail locations have shut down. Along with sports bets, many operators generate significant revenue from betting terminals. This has also ceased.

An interesting article which I read lately, penned down by Evan Macy on the Philly Voice Staff suggested five ideas that can be used to replace sports betting. Mainly being betting on climate/temperature, betting on election votes and voting, betting on television ratings, betting on flight arrivals and departures and betting on celebrity deaths.

The European Gaming Commission has warned that global gambling revenues could be set to drop 11 per cent from previous forecasts due to global concerns about the coronavirus.

2020 global gambling gross win has been downgraded from its previous pre-COVID-19 forecasts of $473bn to $421bn, representing figures close to 2016 levels, according to industry analysts Gambling Capital’s new weekly COVID Impact Tracker. The company asserts an expectation that worldwide online activity is set to surge, with the sector shifting from 13.2 per cent to a 15.7 per cent share of global gambling revenue.

Legal restrictions forced on gaming companies by the government during quarantine – what are your thoughts on this?

On the 6th of April 2020, online gambling has been banned in Latvia with immediate effect, after clarification was issued on the country’s emergency coronavirus (Covid-19) bill. The bill, signed by the country’s president, Egils Levits, on 22 March – initially left the status of online gambling unclear. It called for a prohibition on gambling and lotteries “except for interactive gambling, numerical lotteries and instant lotteries”. However, in the next article of the bill, it then says that the Lotteries and Gambling Supervisory Authority “shall suspend all gambling licenses for physical gambling venues […] interactive media and/or via electronic communication services”.

Fearing the safety of those gambling during lockdown, certain jurisdictions such as Latvia, Lithuania and Belgium have tightened their regulatory regime, with Spain imposing a restriction on gambling advertising to a four-hour window between 1am and 5am. The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has requested regular intelligence from the industry on gambling patterns during the coronavirus outbreak.

The boredom and stress of staying at home – and the chance to make some money – may lead people to turn to online gambling without making careful considerations. It is for this reason that many operators in the online gambling industry have put responsible gaming on top of their agenda.

Outlook for the future – gaming industry after the virus. What changes are here to stay?

The lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 have wrecked havoc for most businesses involved in the online gambling industry. For online casinos, though, it is a blessing in disguise. Most gamblers, including technophobes who previously had no time for online gambling, are finding themselves playing games online. They are surprisingly enjoying the convenience that comes with playing at home. They can log in to stream live the casino games they love.

E-sports have never had it so good. Although competitive video gaming hasn’t proven entirely invulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic, it isn’t doing so bad out of it either. With mainstream sports around the world on hold, people are increasingly turning to gaming to fill the empty hours of lockdown and isolation.

The conversation around esports is truly bigger than ever. Twitter alone saw a 71 per cent increase in competitive gaming conversations during the last two weeks of March compared to the two weeks prior when the coronavirus was yet to take hold globally. The platform Steam also broke its concurrent player count record last month, registering more than 19 million users.

If there was one advice you could give to a company after living through quarantine and boarder lockdown period – what would that be?

Life is stressful for us all right now, and maximizing productivity shouldn’t take precedence in a crisis situation, especially as many of us are juggling work and caretaking responsibilities. But being empowered to manage your own time, capitalize on your own peak periods of focus, and not feel stressed by commuting can be hugely valuable.

I cannot predict what the aftermath of COVID-19 will look like. What we can do is make the most out of it and think about how our professional lives will look like once the dust has settled. Most important is that we will be even more grateful for the time and freedom we have, and that we once again will be able to value our freedom. Remote workers may only account for a small percentage of the european population, but for those of us who can do our jobs from wherever, there’s never been a better time to take that independence and make it permanent.