888 Mulls Post Brexit Gibraltar Exit

Posted on: April 10, 2017, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: April 10, 2017, 02:23h.

888 Holdings has hinted for the first time that it could move its headquarters from Gibraltar to Malta due to the uncertainty surrounding the former’s post-Brexit future.

888 threatens Gibraltar exit
On this rock they built a major European online gambling hub, but this week 888 became the first operator to suggest it might emigrate to Malta in the wake of Brexit. (Image: visitgibraltar.gi)

Despite Britain’s assurances last week that it would protect Gibraltar’s interests during forthcoming Brexit negotiations, and Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo’s expressed optimism about the territory’s future as a gambling hub, 888, one of its biggest licensees, is having doubts.

In its annual report, published this week, 888 said that while it intends to maintain a presence on “the Rock,” it would consider upping sticks for Malta, where it would be guaranteed future free cross-border movement of people, goods, services and capital with other EU member states.  

“The proposed status of Gibraltar in relation to the United Kingdom as a result of ‘Brexit’ is at present unclear,” the report said. “If 888 were to remain registered, licensed and operating in Gibraltar in these circumstances, its ability to rely on EU freedom of services/establishment principles in supplying its services within the EU will be limited.”

Political Uncertainty

888 said that it relied on EU principles for its regulatory strategy in major EU markets and that Gibraltar’s exit from the EU would render it unable to “control or mitigate” political changes of this nature. It would, in the future, “reconsider the appropriateness of remaining registered, licenced and operational in Gibraltar in these circumstances.”

It also suggested Malta might be considered as an alternative ‘dot com’ licensing jurisdiction.

Gibraltar, which is an EU member by virtue of its status as a British territory, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the union in last year’s Brexit referendum, by more than 94 percent.

The online gambling industry is Gibraltar’s largest employer, accounting for around 25 percent of its GDP. But because of its size, the vast majority of its workforce lives across the border in Spain. Much of the territory’s ability to continue to exist as a major jurisdiction will lie in Spain’s willingness to permit some degree of cross-border movement.

Sovereignty Dispute

But Gibraltar has long been the subject of an occasionally hostile sovereignty dispute between Britain and Spain, which ceded the territory to the British in 1713.

Spain has suggested a “shared sovereignty” approach, post-Brexit, that would allow Gibraltar to stay in the EU. But the Rock’s residents consider themselves overwhelmingly British and have rejected the proposal, despite what leaving the EU might mean for their economy.

Many licensees have expressed their support for the hub, however. Lottoland CEO, Nigel Birrell, said in the wake of the Brexit vote, that Gibraltar had been “the perfect base for our business, providing an excellent platform for our success.

“Our business is thriving and the benefits of staying in Gibraltar remain very strong indeed,” he added.