Gibraltar’s Gaming Ecosystem at Risk as Spain May Try to Close Border

Posted on: July 3, 2023, 08:01h. 

Last updated on: July 3, 2023, 09:14h.

Gibraltar, the 2.6-square-mile British Overseas Territory (BOT) connected to southern Spain, has once again found itself in a tug-of-war between the two countries. This time, depending on how the upcoming elections play out in Spain, the result could impact “The Rock’s” gambling industry.

A view of Gibraltar from the ocean
A view of Gibraltar from the ocean. The British Overseas gambling operators there must closely watch the upcoming Spanish elections. (Image: Alamy)

Gibraltar is popular with the Spanish community for several reasons – tax-free alcohol and cigarettes, among them. However, it’s also popular because it supplies employment for a number of Spaniards.

Spain is preparing for a contentious national election that puts its fate in jeopardy. The Popular Party (PP) is aligning itself with the Vox (Voice) party, which wants to shut down the border between the two regions. If the elections were held today, the PP and Vox would win.

Possible Trouble Ahead

Spain and Britain have both controlled Gibraltar at different intervals, routinely having heated discussions over which should be its rightful owner. They’ve handled their differences amicably, making it easier for Spanish and European Union (EU) citizens to live in Spain and work in the BOT.

Currently, there are around 13,000 such workers – all that’s needed to enter Gibraltar is a Spanish or EU ID. There are no passports involved and no need to request a work visa.

For Spanish nationals living just north of the border, this is particularly beneficial. Depending on their employment, they can earn around $1,800 in Gibraltar instead of the roughly $1,100 they may earn in their own country.

Of Gibraltar’s nonlocal workforce, around 10,500 are from Spain, although there are also some from Portugal, Italy, Germany and other countries. If the border were to close, all would have to have a passport to enter from Spain into Gibraltar.

Many of these workers provide much-needed services to the gaming industry. Should Spain succeed in shutting down the border, the industry would suffer.

Although there’s no indication yet that a closure is coming, it’s becoming increasingly clear that changes are on the way.

Whatever It Takes

In May, when Spain held its national elections, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE, for its Spanish acronym) lost a lot of ground. Sanchez then called for a snap election in light of the changing sentiment, with Spaniards preparing to go to the polls on July 23.

Whereas the PSOE has developed a working relationship with Gibraltar that has led to a period of calm (although it, too, at times has pressed for control of Gibraltar), the PP (and VOX) want to go a different route. They’re more inclined toward nationalist protection of Spain, and may demand that the territory’s fate be settled once and for all.

If that means closing the border, they’re prepared to do it. Leading up to the elections, neither the PP nor VOX has had enough control to make a difference. Combining their forces would change that.

They have been hinting at a takeover by any means necessary, except a hostile military incursion – that’s off the table (although it wouldn’t be the first time). However, the PP and VOX have been making demands of Britain that they hope will paint it into a corner.

This is despite Spain, Gibraltar, the UK, and the EU having spent more than a year trying to come to some type of understanding on The Rock’s status. It has always been marginalized by the UK, forced to fend for itself in virtually every way. However, Britain doesn’t hesitate when it comes time to take its share of the BOT’s revenue.

Even if the PP and VOX take over Spain, there’s still a chance that they would try to facilitate some of the same conditions that apply now. It’s too early to tell what will happen, but not too early to prepare for a new Gibraltar.