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As big iGaming operators appear to be quickly conquering the Spanish market that boosts improving figures by the month, Malta’s dominant role in the European online gambling vertical may come into question for many. Joonas Karhu, Chief Business Officer at Bojoko, talks to Business Malta about what the most recent progress in the industry might hold for the island nation that was quick to leverage the sector’s potential more than a decade ago, having claimed world-wide recognition as the “iGaming village”.

The Spanish online gambling market is making iGaming stakeholders excited, as figures spur optimism. Spanish watchdog Dirección General de Ordenación del Juego reported revenues jumping by 21% to €193.2m in Q1 2019, as compared to the same quarter a year earlier. Behind sports betting, the online casino vertical was the second strongest; generating €67.1m. Big iGaming operators are heading to the market.

SkillOnNet, which operates PlayOJO, has been one of the most recent companies to have obtained a licence in Spain. Additionally, giants such as LeoVegas — seeing further expansion in Malta — and GiG, both having a firm presence in Malta, have also bagged their Spanish licenses lately.

“With such prestigious brands getting in on the action I think the Spanish online gambling market will continue to thrive over the coming months and years,” Bojoko CBO Joonas Karhu tells BM.

Joonas Karhu, Chief Business Officer at Bojoko.

The Bojoko chief believes that the Spanish market will affect Malta positively, especially from the perspective of a licencing jurisdiction. “The Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) is one of the most established and trusted regulators in the world, and online gambling operators and suppliers wishing to enter markets such as Spain will still seek their approval,” Mr Karhu says.

He argues that being “dually licenced”, which essentially means that recognised by the MGA and by the regulator of the country a business is planning to enter, is a strong signal for players and other potential partners that an iGaming company operates to the highest possible standards.

“As markets such as Spain continue to regulate and show signs of growth, I think new operators and suppliers will enter the fray and will look to the MGA for licensing in addition to obtaining permits from the regulators in the markets where they launch,” Mr Karhu says.

Swedish reregulation ups the ante

However, another nation is believed to claim its stake at the European competition, holding strong cards in hand, as the recent reregulation of the Swedish market makes it an ever more attractive destination for iGaming firms.

“Bojoko supports the licensing and regulation of gambling in all markets around the world as it is the best way of ensuring that operators and suppliers are doing the right thing and that, ultimately, players are properly protected,” Mr Karhu says. “Online gambling is a hugely popular activity in Sweden and since the market reregulated at the start of the year we have seen all the major operators from the United Kingdom and beyond obtain the necessary licences to launch their brands in the country,” he adds.

Sweden is often seen as one of the most stringent markets when it comes to how operators can market their brands to players, which has caused some difficulties to companies, but generally, Mr Karhu believes that operators have adapted well and the market is growing nicely.

Mr Karhu further adds that the Swedish rerelugation will rather add to the importance of Malta. “I think this will have a positive impact on the Maltese online gambling industry. Malta is recognised as a leader and an authority in global online gambling and as markets continue to regulate and reregulate, the MGA will still to play a central role in the sector,” the business chief says.

In terms of the online gambling businesses based in Malta, Mr Karhu underscores that as most of these companies are multinational operators and suppliers he does not see them relocating to Sweden any time soon. Malta is considered as the world’s iGaming village and is expected to keep attracting companies and talent to its shores.

Expanding markets in EU, US

Additional European markets are expected to regulate the online gambling industry, which is seen to further establish the sector as a reputable, trusted and highly professional one. “We can clearly see the benefit of licensing and regulation in established markets such as the United Kingdom and Malta. Indeed, regulators such as the Gambling Commission and the MGA will continue to lead efforts to better safeguard players,” Mr Karhu says.

“I also expect Malta and the MGA to play a part in helping craft rules and regulations in new markets, as well as playing a central role in general conversations about how the iGaming sector can continue to move forward while properly protecting consumers,” he adds.

Overseas, the United States is also putting on the gloves, as a handful of states have already opened up, while another handful of states is working on regulating the market and would be opening up soon. “The United States is one of the most interesting online gambling markets in the world as more and more states license and regulate the activity. But it is very much a new industry and there is a lot to be learned from Malta and the MGA,” Mr Karhu maintains. He adds that he expects the MGA to “play a role in helping lawmakers craft rules and requirements, as well as to assist European operators looking to launch in the USA for the very first time.”

Although the opening up US market is foreseen to grow bigger than the European in the upcoming years, Mr Karhu does not believe the two giants would become competitors. “I do not really see it as one competing with the other. The United States is a new market that a lot of European operators and suppliers are keen to enter because of the huge potential on the table. The likes of Betfair, William Hill and PokerStars are already live, for example,” the Bojoko chief elaborates.

“I think European operators and suppliers — as well as regulators such as the MGA — can play a central role in how the US market evolves and expands simply because of the wealth of experience they have when it comes to working successfully in a highly-regulated industry,” he adds.

Only time will tell how European iGaming brands will resonate with players in the United States and whether any of the big US brands will decide to launch for players in Europe. “All things considered, I think the opening of the US market is great for Europe and great for the wider industry,” Mr Karhu concludes.