How would you sum up life in Malta in 2020?
Just like in most European countries, life in Malta was heavily affected by the pandemic in 2020 and is currently defined by remote working and social distancing. Masks are mandatory anywhere in the public and gatherings are heavily restricted. The life we knew has changed drastically and businesses were forced to adapt to survive, mainly by going digital and shifting focus to pandemic-proof concepts. It’s important to find ways to keep your balance; isolation is a big problem and socialising is currently very difficult with all the rules and restrictions to control the spread. Many people prefer staying at home and binging on Netflix has become a favourite pastime to kill time. Luckily, there’s a lot to explore on the island as well with temples dating back over 5,000 years and some beautiful nature to enjoy with hikes. I’m going running almost daily and it really helps me keep my head together during these strange times.
What has changed in Malta over the course of the year?
After successfully suppressing an outbreak via rigorous travel restrictions, Malta had become the poster child within the EU in terms of Covid-19 measures. Active cases were very low during summer and new cases had stagnated to the point where they were almost non-existent. Life was relatively normal, but people were afraid of what was going on around them. The strain on the economy was immense for Malta due to a partial lockdown and resulted in the reintroduction of tourism and mass events, which essentially led to the re-emergence of the pandemic on the island, with new cases in the hundreds and daily Covid-19-related deaths.
How did the Maltese Government respond to the pandemic?
The first measure the Government introduced was the closure of all ports, including the airport. All non-essential businesses were temporarily closed early on and anyone coming from abroad was screened and had to undergo quarantine procedures; Malta was under lockdown. Later on a lot of the measures were eased to support the economy but at the same time face masks and social distancing became mandatory in the public to reduce the spread of the virus. €100 ($120.47) vouchers were issued to every citizen by post to be spent on selected businesses for financial support and to boost the economy. Gatherings were heavily limited, bars had to shut down and most restaurants and snack bars were prohibited to serve alcohol. Daily updates on the pandemic were presented to the public by the authorities and flu vaccinations started for the vulnerable.
What policies did Betsson Group bring in when the pandemic started?
Betsson Group reacted very quickly to the Covid-19 situation and introduced remote working early on to help curb the spread of the pandemic. Almost every interaction between colleagues became digital, including interviews with candidates, meetings and announcements, team events and even onboarding, and orientation of new employees are now in front of a screen. Masks must be worn within the premises for safety reasons and hand sanitisers are spread throughout the offices. Betsson introduced daily updates by email to inform staff of the latest developments and changes in policy. We still feel the Betsson vibe and a survey concluded that the One Betsson spirit is still very much alive, despite the difficult circumstances. We have all adjusted to the new situation very well and give each other strength to get through this together.
Have player and consumer habits changed over the course of the year?
Sports betting naturally took a hit in in the beginning of the pandemic, with most games being affected by lockdowns between mid-March and June. It basically came down to esports, horseracing, Belarusian football, ping pong and fantasy sports for players to bet on. To make it worse, some major sports events we were really looking forward to such as the Euro 2020 and the Olympics Japan had to be postponed. The big football leagues as well as Europa League and Champions League did return during 2020 luckily, to bring back some betting action, albeit without any spectators. Another big one was the Trump vs. Biden face off during the election, with an astounding number of bets recorded.
The big winner of 2020 was definitely online poker, with many Europeans taking to the tables during lockdown periods. Cash game traffic soared to historic levels last seen five years ago and many offline tournament players took their action online. Just like for poker, online casino revenues also saw gains during 2020, with players generally spending more time gambling or shifting their focus over from sports and land-based casinos. Outside of online gaming, delivery services became very popular and consumers turned to digital purchases rather than going out for shopping themselves.
How have day-to-day interactions with colleagues and also affiliates been affected by the pandemic?
Interactions with colleagues and affiliates are mostly limited to video calls due to the pandemic. I was onboarded to the company remotely as well and had to get to know my affiliate team online. My work takes place remotely mostly, but we do encourage check-ins at our offices from time to time to counter isolation. Despite everything being different we have still managed to get a team spirit going again and the affiliate unit sticks together like glue. Team events also take place online, and we receive snacks and goodies straight to the doorstep from our fantastic affiliate operations team to cheer everyone up. The company facilitates online interactions and socialising through games, and competitions, among employees such as our weekly online poker tournaments. I feel very much as part of an organisation that cares about the wellbeing of its staff and I think my colleagues do as well.
We’ve reorganised the affiliate unit and have successfully migrated our new Gaming Innovation Group brands to the BGA platform. Of course we would much rather invite our partners to dinners and meet them personally, but we had to introduce virtual meetings, which work pretty well too. Mass events such as the affiliate conferences or award shows are all digital for now or were entirely postponed; travelling is often connected with quarantine, which makes meeting partners abroad difficult. We have used the time well to improve our affiliate program in terms of support, though, and can now assist our affiliates even better than before. Among other things, we have fully revamped our Betsson Group Affiliates website and further enhanced the tools and resources we offer to our affiliate partners online.
Another achievement I’m proud of is we have revised our terms and conditions and have been accredited as affiliate friendly by Affiliate Guard Dog, which underlines our new image and the way we interact with our partners. We are already a lot more transparent and give our affiliates the best experience possible from onboarding to commission payments. We stick to our core Betsson values of fair player, responsible gaming and One Betsson and our affiliates like that. We have won awards with our partners too. My team has worked very hard all year round to get us there and I am extremely proud of them.
Do you see life changing again soon or will things in Malta remain the same for the foreseeable future due to Covid-19?
Malta started vaccinating the population on 27 December 2020 and hopes to achieve herd immunity by the end of summer 2021. Although we’re pretty much on track with the vaccination plan, it is uncertain if industry events will be taking place this year. There will probably be a transitional period, where masks will remain mandatory and vaccination passports will be required for travelling, but I’m confident things will already start to look much brighter soon. The year 2020 was definitely not an easy one, but we all managed to pull through it together here at Betsson; and after a record-breaking year there is now truly a light at the end of the tunnel.