Sky-high rents now a big problem even for iGaming’s foreign workers

High rental fees might be making it hard to attract essential foreign talent and keep them in Malta long-term

That the Maltese are having a problem when it comes to finding affordable places to rent is well known. But it’s now emerging that foreigners working in iGaming are also encountering significant problems in paying high rental fees for the island’s property.

We spoke to online iGaming companies based in Malta to get a perspective on how rent prices – which many say exploded due to the gaming industry itself – are proving to be a negative aspect of Malta in this sector.

Alexander Stevendahl, CEO at the online casino Videoslots, said that sky-high rent costs were becoming “a big problem” which was not only affecting locals, but also foreigners.

Alexander Stevendahl, Videoslots CEO, called high-rent costs a big problem which had to be addressed urgently
Alexander Stevendahl, Videoslots CEO, called high-rent costs a big problem which had to be addressed urgently

When it came to foreign gaming employees, he said it wasn’t only those with lower salaries who were having problems.

“It is one of the top issues we are facing on the island,” Stevendahl maintained.

He added that rent prices had to be addressed “urgently”, adding that “the current rental prices are not attractive [to the industry].”

Similarly, Julian Perigo, managing director at Boston Link, said that the significant increase in rental costs seen over the last three to four years is creating an issue for the industry.

“One argument is that the higher rents are caused by rising salaries in the sector; but I think there’s an argument that it works the other way. Higher costs of living are driving employees to demand higher salaries”, Perigo maintained.

Boston Link managing director Julian Perigo said rent rates are making it hard to attract and keep talent in Malta
Boston Link managing director Julian Perigo said rent rates are making it hard to attract and keep talent in Malta

“Many workers come from overseas, often taking a pay cut in real terms. This is fine if offset by lower living costs; but we are now in a situation where foreign workers need to take a pay cut and have higher living costs than in their home country. In these cases it is proving hard to attract and retain employees in Malta,” he remarked.

Echoing Stevendahl’s comments, Perigo said that the rent rates were having an impact on employees “across the board”.

“One of the most affected groups are workers with families who require accommodation with three or four bedrooms. These workers may not be at the lower end of the salary scale, but their rental costs are now significantly higher than they were a few years ago,” he said.

“Malta is arguably the global centre for iGaming, so I don’t think these issues will be prompting any companies to reconsider their presence here anytime soon. I do believe, however, that the jurisdiction has to be careful not to make itself unattractive from a price perspective,” he said.

Nadine Muscat Cini, HR manager at Legolas said it was challenging for employees to find suitably priced apartments in sought-after central locations.

“Up to around five years ago, one could easily find great alternatives, price and quality-wise in the peripheral areas of Sliema and St Julian’s, however, these are in heavy demand now,” she said.

“[This issue] would affect more the medium-to-lower income earners – who actually have relatively good salaries.”

She said that the problem hasn’t yet escalated to the extent of driving potential iGaming employees away, but this could happen in the future if the issue is not looked into.

Anne Muscat Scerri, group executive secretary at Bethard, said Malta’s rent rates were comparable to that of London or Stockholm.

“This of course has a bearing on workers when deciding whether to stay in Malta,” she said.

“Many of our employees have tales to tell of incredibly greedy landlords who give no service, have poorly-built flats, but still expect an increase in rent after the contract expires.”

The situation from the horse’s mouth

Imre Guaglianone, 32, Legolas’s head of development who has been in Malta for the past three years, told us that a one-bedroom 58m² apartment in Gzira costs him €700 a month. He previously used to pay €600 a month for a 250m² flat with a garage in Mellieha.

“Rent takes up around one-third of my salary,” he said, “I used to live in Bologna, where, for the same price I could have had a really nice place in the centre.”

“I’ve seen rent increase significantly in the time I’ve been here, and costs can vary drastically even in the same area.”

“Malta is a great place which offered me a good job which I couldn’t get in Italy,” he said, “But rent is a problem.”

John and Lara (fictitious names), both in their mid-30s and also working at Legolas, the former living in Marsaskala, the latter in Gzira, also highlighted the difference location made to rent costs.

“I’m very happy living in the south,” John told us, explaining that he rented a house for €700-a-month on a one-year contract – one-third of his salary – and previously rented a one-bedroom flat in the same town for €500.

“However, I wouldn’t want to pay rent all my life, and it is prohibitively expensive to buy a place. I’ll give it another year to see if the situation improves, and then decide whether or not to stay.

“I know many foreigners who left Malta because rent is too high,” he noted.

Lara, who has been here for a year and a half and shares a flat in Gzira with two other people, said she paid €330 a month, bills included – one-fourth of her salary – for the privilege.

Malta is arguably the global centre for iGaming, so I don’t think these issues will be prompting any companies to reconsider their presence here anytime soon

“I’d like to live alone, but I can’t afford to pay some €700 a month,” she confessed. Despite this, she said rent is currently not a make-or-break factor when deciding whether to remain in Malta.

GamingMalta’s reaction

GamingMalta, the independent government set-up foundation promoting Malta as an iGaming hub, said their view was that rental costs may have a geographical element attached to them.

“…the high concentration of gaming companies and employees in certain areas, such as Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex and St Julian’s, may lead to a situation where companies or employees might consider alternative residential areas which are nonetheless attractive, coupled with cheaper rental rates,” it said.

“While it is true that certain operators speak to us about rising rental costs, Malta still retains a competitive edge over other jurisdictions in terms of costs,” it maintained, adding that it would continue to monitor any challenges to ensure Malta remained attractive for iGaming.

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