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Gypsy of big business - Dennis Avorin

Gypsies have neither wanted nor tried to organise themselves into a political unit. The similarities to the iGaming industry are striking. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Gypsies have neither wanted nor tried to organise themselves into a political unit. The similarities to the iGaming industry are striking. Photo: Shutterstock.com

The odds stack up against Malta’s iGaming sector, as written in an article by Joanna Plucinska for Politico late last year.

Rising criticism of iGaming from other European Union countries, in combination with the digital taxation scheme, are cited as the most urgent threats to the iGaming industry. With the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) proposal, the European Commission is now seeking to put an end to tax competition among countries in the digital economy.

This is bad news for a country like Malta and the iGaming industry. An industry I have personally become acquainted with during the latest year. A topic which might even eventually deserve the effort of a doctoral thesis.

While on it, I wrote my master thesis in interdisciplinary research on a topic which is dear to me, and which nobody else up until then had done: a European economic history of the gypsies and their business model from the High Middle Ages until today.

One thing that struck me when I started to understand the iGaming industry, is that their business model is the same.

If every industry was based on a national stereotype: iGaming is, without doubt, the gypsy of big business. The reasons are threefold: what it sells is popular but morally condemned; it moves when circumstances are turned against its favour; and it does not defend itself.

Gypsies, nowadays formally known as Roma in Eastern Europe, and Sinti, Kale, Manouche, Romanichal, and Romani Manush in Western Europe, entered Europe around the year 1000 from India.

All historical documents from the time refer to their business model as being based in itinerant trade, blacksmithing, horse trading, fortune telling, and palm reading.

Written documentation from the Byzantine Empire also indicates that they did not like to pay taxes.

Sentiments and campaigns against Malta and iGaming are mounting in Brussels and among other member states ofthe EU

Given that for instance the Vikings at this time, still had plundering, pillaging, and slave trading as their primary business model, by comparison, the gypsies cannot be said to have been causing any wider harm to anyone.

Yet wherever they went across Europe, hostility ensued and continued over the centuries. The pattern is the same across every country.

A deep-rooted mechanism in gypsy culture is that it constitutes what sociologists call an “Exit Society”. This means, a society which chooses exit rather than voice when dealing with economic and political affairs.

Whenever the circumstances become too dire, rather than staying put and attempting to organise some sort of rebellion, gypsies have historically chosen to pack up and leave for a more favourable place.

Additionally, gypsies have neither wanted nor tried to organise themselves into a political unit.

The similarities to the iGaming industry are striking.

The iGaming industry is selling a service which is popular but often found morally repugnant by higher powers, much like fortune telling and palm reading. It chooses exit over voice and is prone to jump jurisdiction as soon as odds are stacked up against it.

Last but not least, the iGaming industry is not trying to defend itself. It remains relatively unorganised despite the hostility of its environment.

History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. The reputation of an industry, or a country for that matter, is not necessarily an objective reflection of the moral righteousness of its actions.

Sweden, for instance, is the third top arms exporter per capita in the world and has secretly been exporting arms to dictatorships like Saudi Arabia. Yet the country’s reputation is that of a moral superpower.

Sweden has successfully defended its reputation against each and every scandal that has emerged around its arms industry.

Malta and the iGaming industry need to do the same if this industry is going to keep maintaining its edge over the upcoming years, as sentiments and campaigns against Malta and iGaming are mounting in Brussels and among other member states of the EU. Voice, in the long run, is a cheaper alternative to exit. The historical experiences of the gypsies is a very telling proof of this fact.

Now is the time for the iGaming industry to up its game and organise itself around efforts to build social sustainability into its business model and promote practices that, either improve or at least, defend its reputation. Reputation is an intangible asset which can prove expensive to rectify when it has deteriorated past a certain threshold.

As Shakespeare wrote in 1603: “A good reputation is the most valuable thing we have – men and women alike. If you steal my money, you’re just stealing trash.

“It’s something, it’s nothing: it’s yours, it’s mine, and it’ll belong to thousands more. But if you steal my reputation, you’re robbing me of something that doesn’t make you richer, but makes me much poorer.”

Dennis Avorin is a Swedish-born professional policy analyst resident in Malta. Enthusiastic about topics like gender equality, tax competition and blockchain.

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