They waited until election day in Malta. But they did not wait to be courted personally by the prime minister who rushed to visit their offices before sleeping off the champagne and before even having a cabinet or staff put together. It was already too late. They had waited patiently for the election result to consider a reprieve after which there was no other option for them.
By the time the PM took the press to their offices, they had already taken the decision to start building an alternative for their Malta operation. And the announcement came within hours of our decision on who is to run this country. One of the largest employers in Malta, the hub of the gaming industry, is no longer putting all its eggs in this basket and by implication halting expansion here.
Instead it is setting up a new development centre in Budapest. A small start to be sure but no spin can call this a show of confidence in Malta.
Here is the announcement on a trade website. It’s by subscription so you will probably only be able to see the introduction but the news is all there.
No one is gloating or feeling smug right now. Well, no one except the Hungarian investment authority I suppose. No one here is saying ‘told you so’. What we’re all doing is rooting for the prime minister that in spite of his many self-inflicted handicaps he manages to limit the damage because we all earn our living from these industries and no one wants to see them stop growing, never mind shrink.
But how chilling Simon Busuttil’s oft repeated line feels now. It sounded like a manner of speaking to say that the country would vote on the 3rd of June and boardrooms of the corporates would vote on the 5th. It turned out to be quite literal in this case. And who knows what other similar decisions were taken elsewhere this week?
Betsson is not shutting down its Malta operation. Not yet anyway. But in deciding where its future growth lies it has voted with its feet and those are now elsewhere.