Closing Gibraltar’s border: does anyone win?

Gibraltar is very much in the dark at present when it comes to its gambling industry. With Brexit in the balance, the industry has said it is preparing for the worst-case scenario, but managing this is going to be a daunting task.

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This is due to the high volume of employees who commute into Gibraltar on a day-to-day basis. I understand the complexity of the situation more than most, having worked for an operator based in Gibraltar for the best part of 18 months.

I chose to reside in Spain and travel into Gibraltar five days a week. It wasn’t the easiest commute at times, due to the volume of people attempting to cross the border for work. But because of the lack of housing and the high cost of rent in Gibraltar, it comes as no surprise why thousands of EU citizens opt to live in southern Spain.

When I was making the move in 2016, a £1,000 ($1,209) budget per month in Gibraltar would allow you to rent a one-bed studio flat, often where your pull-down bed almost ends up in your kitchen area. For the same price, you could easily rent a three-bed flat or small villa on the beach in Spain. For me, it was a no brainer and thousands of others clearly agree.

At one point during my stint, there was a rumour the border was going to shut entirely due to Brexit. I was provided with a laptop to work from home, while those based in Gibraltar would still be able to work from the office. It was a mad situation but, fortunately for me, the border remained open. This however, is a situation which very much remains a possibility if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Andrew Lyman, Executive Director of the Gibraltar Government’s Gambling Division, said: “There is now more focus and some angst around ‘no-deal’ planning and what that means at an individual level. Most operators have already planned on a worst-case scenario basis.

“We are hoping for the withdrawal of Article 50 or for a managed exit. The industry can deal with IT structures and EU licensing issues, but the border remains a concern.”

The logistics of a large proportion of an operator’s staff working from home certainly aren't ideal and ask the question of whether companies should continue to keep offices in Gibraltar.

Bet365 chose to move a large part of its team to Malta, but others such as William Hill, Ladbrokes Coral and 888 remain in the British territory.

John O’Reilly, CEO of Rank Group, said: “For EU nationals who travel across the border to work in Gibraltar, the challenge is whether that is still going to be okay for everybody from 1 November onwards.

“I hope logic and common sense prevails. Gibraltar is important to the economy of that area of southern Spain so it doesn’t help anybody, not least the local community.”

O’Reilly is right in what he says. With a large majority of operator’s employees based in southern Spain, they are contributing to the local towns; but if they are forced to move, you are removing a sizeable chunk of money from the community, which would have a negative impact on southern Spain as a whole.

With so much uncertainty over the border, it remains up in the air whether the gambling industry continues to operate on the Mediterranean shore over the next few months, let alone years.

But, let’s be clear, it won’t just be Gibraltar which suffers if there is a no-deal Brexit. It would make sense for Spain to co-operate and help keep the border open. Whether that actually happens is anyone’s guess.

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