Thousands of attendees at Malta’s largest iGaming convention walked down the aisles of tech booths, meeting prospective clients and grabbing free drinks.

Yet while many were happy with the atmosphere inside, other attendees were unimpressed with Sigma’s new venue.

A yearly convention that began in Malta and is now organised in several continents, organisers opted to shift venues for its 2023 Europe edition.

The event, which runs until tomorrow, is being held at the Malta Maritime Hub in Marsa for the first time.

The shift in venue was required as the event had outgrown the Ta’ Qali MFCC venue where it used to be held, Sigma founder and CEO Eman Pulis said during a promotional podcast.

Traditionally a shipyard, a lot of work had to be done to transform the space into a convention centre, Pulis said.

Flashing screens and free merchandise, the booths inside the convention promoted online casinos, crypto exchange platforms and local insurance companies.

While some booths were little more than a sign along with some tables and chairs, others looked like large plastic obelisks, with open bars and even upstairs areas for people to chill and chat.

Working from inside a booth, one bartender said that many people come to Sigma to look for prospective business partners. But, while there, accepting a couple of free drinks is never out of the question, the bartender said.

“It makes business more fun. And easier.”

In one small booth along the left wall of the space, a worker who asked to remain anonymous said they had already made new clients and contacts, two days into the five-day event.

“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have bought the booth,” they said, excited to meet more people over the coming hours.

Like many other gaming conventions, booth babes (promotional models who work the stands) dressed in outfits ranging from tight aviation gear to pinup hairdos and dresses dotted the convention floor.

Events were numerous and continuous, one attendee recalling an MMA weigh-in taking place on Tuesday while noting that the fight would be happening yesterday evening.

Transforming a shipyard into a glitzy venue is a tall task, and some were not so happy with the outcome.

Outside of the event, small toilet cubicles left little room to move around in, Ebru Cinar who was attending the event said, representing her company as a project manager.

With just one sink for every five cubicles, the flow of people was inevitably slowed. Convention workers tried to speed things up, handing people paper towels and free water as they walked back into the convention.

Meanwhile, at the front of the convention centre, food trucks filled the thick air with pungent smells of meat while the wind blew dust from the floor into peoples’ faces, Cinar said.

Cinar said that the experience had been “quite negative” overall but also admitted that the event was still a success, as it allowed her to make new contacts and find out about new companies.

“The food court should have been a bigger space as it is completely crowded,” one person said, asking to remain anonymous but echoing the thoughts of many others that Times of Malta spoke to at the conference.

While the smell outside and the toilet situation were not fan favourites – some people even taking to social media to complain – cleaners were visible at all times.

Picking up rubbish and even hoovering the carpet while people walked by, cleaners also went into each bathroom stall after they were used, sanitising them for the next person.

While cleaners worked overtime to keep the convention floor spotless, there was little they could do to ease frustrations about getting to the venue.

The combination of thousands of delegates, limited parking spots and road access through the busy Marsa Junction made for a messy experience.

Some attendees parked their cars closer to the MCAST campus in Paola and then walked down the main road to the venue.

Others took cabs and event-provided coaches.

It was an uphill battle, with long southbound tailbacks stretching across Malta’s key central thoroughfares reported on both Tuesday and yesterday.

Even those who took cabs were unable to hide their frustration.

“It took us half an hour to get here but our hotel is only five minutes away,” a person said, carrying free tote bags they had grabbed from the front door.

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