Casinos and endless entertainment are
primarily what Las Vegas in the US is known
for.
But back home in Nigeria, those involved in
casino and sports betting are discriminated
against by the larger society. In an interview,
Yahaya Maikori, the president of the Nigeria
Gaming Association (NGA), speaks on the
success and challenges of the industry back
home in Nigeria. Excerpt.
Betting is becoming very popular in Nigeria
with the likes of Naija Bet, 1960 Bet
amongst others.What is fueling this
revolution as far sports betting is concerned
in Nigeria?
Yes. It may seem revolutionary but it is not
entirely a new thing. It started with pools
betting which has been around even from
when we were children. However the
revolution you talk about is now fueled by
several things which include access to media,
technology and the internet, which have now
brought sports even to our mobile phones.
Also, the emergence of big brands like the
English Premier League, the German
Bundesliga, etc.
Some of these companies worth hundreds of
millions of dollars have in the process of
building their brands embarked on some form
of evangelization attracting massive
followership across the globe. The passion
sports evokes has contributed immensely to
the popularity of sports betting. Sports
betting means to bet on a sporting event.
Since Nigerians are sports loving people,
getting people from just enjoying a game to
staking cash on what they are passionate
about is really easy.
Tell our readers what they might not know
about the Nigeria Gaming Association
(NGA).
The association started about five years ago
when we started having issues with some of
the government regulatory bodies. First we
started as Association of Casino Operators of
Nigeria (ACON), and as time went on, we
started to notice the growth of other areas
like sports betting, online, etc.
So, we decided to broaden the association to
cover the whole gaming industry. Currently,
our trustees represent different sectors of the
industry. The idea is to create a platform for
the advancement of our common interest as
well as liaise with relevant institutions
particularly government to build an
economically viable industry for all
stakeholders.
The manner in which you talk about ‘gaming
industry’ suggests to me that we have an
industry here in Nigeria. In actual sense, do
we really have gaming industry yet?
Oh we have a very big gaming industry,
probably bigger than what you imagine. In an
interview some time back I stated that sports
betting were a N40 billion industry annually.
But with the information currently available to
me now, I know sport betting in Nigeria is
much bigger than that and that is only one
side of the story. We have casino, we have
lottery, promos, poker, video games and apps,
etc.
The Nigerian Lottery Act defines lottery to
include “any game of chance or game of
skill”. If you use that definition, you will find
out that the issue is gone beyond your
traditional perception of the industry. It also
means that promos sponsored by corporate
organizations fall into this space; these
include those by telcos, banks, FMCGs, etc.
Traditionally, when we talk about the gaming
industry, we tend to limit it to only when
people stake money but it goes way beyond
that. When you text for the purpose of
winning something or when you play Candy
Crush or Angry Birds on your phone or laptop
it means you are actively engaged at some
level in the industry.
Yahaya Maikori
In terms of size, sports betting alone is
conveniently over N100 billion in revenues
annually. There is a report that says
Nigerians stake N1.4 billion every day on
sports betting, although I don’t know the
basis of that report. But that begins to give
you an insight into how big the industry
possibly is. Even looking at some of the
information I am privy to reinforce those
projections. We haven’t even talked about
lottery, which is surprisingly still bigger than
sport betting.
How, in your view, can government create or
increase its own revenue in this huge
industry as you are saying?
First of all, the government needs to
understand the industry especially the value
chain. Government should not wear the ‘we
don’t want to get involved in it’ attitude. This
industry is a critical part of the entertainment
industry because that is the first service it
provides.
What you decide to do is entirely your own
choice. Some people play video games
without staking anything; while some play
and stake something. Some people watch
football and stake cash while others watch
and don’t. The industry is totally ICT driven;
a report says Nigeria loses over $5 billion to
foreign companies on software per annum.
So you can imagine the revenue and
employment opportunities that government
can tap into if they encourage Nigerian
software developers. So primarily, any
gaming company is an ICT company.
Ninety per cent of what they do is based on
ICT. Tourism is another opportunity for
government to tap into and that is why
people go to Las Vegas and you will be
amazed at how many Nigerians travel to
Vegas, Macau, etc. Lottery has traditionally
been seen as form of taxation and I believe
you are going to see many state governments
start to run their lottery as an alternative
revenue stream.
Shouldn’t we be thinking about adequate
legislative framework now as a step towards
unleashing the industry’s huge economic
potential in order to increase government’s
revenue in the sector?
At the moment, there is nothing deliberate in
terms of legislation as far as the gaming
industry is concerned. What we have is
haphazard. You know in 1977, I think it was
Obasanjo’s government that banned the
importation of slot machines. Whatever the
intention was then the purpose has been
defeated and the law is obsolete because
things have totally changed. With the benefit
of technology people simply download slots
apps on their phones while using their credit
cards to pay.
There is a need for us to have national policy
on gaming for the purpose of integrating it
into our developmental plan. In fact, a new
research shows that with the continued
automation of businesses will result in
massive unemployment, the millennial will
depend on the gaming industry for livelihood
potentially making it the biggest industry in
the next 10-15 years.
For most investors they consider our market
a grey market because of the lack of proper
legislation in most of the states. Government
needs to know that the gaming industry is
part of popular culture and technology has
made it ubiquitous and the only way you can
get a grip is to be proactive in legislating for
the sector.
Now, there has been this talk of diversifying
the Nigerian economy by successive
governments since only God knows when,
without any deliberate policy and action to
back it up. Using the same terminology
(diversification), how can government benefit
in the industry in terms of taxes?
The gaming industry is being taxed at the
moment but without an understanding of the
uniqueness of the industry and I think this
was one of the reasons why our association
was formed. The uniform application of taxes
without regard to the peculiarity of the
industry has discouraged a lot of local
operators and potential foreign investors to
the Nigerian market.
But if the tax regime is properly aligned with
what obtains internationally, it will definitely
be a huge revenue stream for Nigeria. So,
taxes for lottery and sports betting are totally
different; in short all the subsectors are taxed
differently taking into account their
uniqueness. Improper taxation will simply
discourage investments while making
operators go underground which can become
detrimental to the economy. So, engaging the
Federal Inland Revenue is top on our agenda.
That now takes us to job creation. In what
way can government partner with the gaming
industry key stakeholders including the
gaming association to create employment for
the teeming youths in the country? Also,
since government maybe naïve of this
opportunity, what is your organization doing
to bring government up to speed about this
huge potential?
Part of what we intend to do soon is to hold
a media briefing with some of our trustees
and members in attendance. This briefing I
believe will help lift the mystery surrounding
the industry. We need the media to
understand in order to help push our agenda
of ‘economic development through gaming’.
At this briefing data from other jurisdictions
would be showcased to disprove some of the
misconceptions about the industry. For
example, the word ‘casino’ evokes memories
of the 60s where all manner of crime
converged but casinos are now legitimate
establishments you can go to without fear.
Besides, the government has several
mechanisms in place to check even money
laundering which they were hitherto known
for. In any case, today’s casino has changed
and can also be experienced online or with
your phone. We hosted an event last year
(Big Africa Summit) in Lagos, where we had
key government officials in attendance.
We are planning another one this year. We
intend to interact with some of the key
government agencies we think are important
to the development of the industry. This kind
of engagement will be the first step towards
being able to profile the value chain and how
to leverage on the potentials. In the ICT
world, companies have been valued in billions
of dollars without grossing any revenue.
If for example, the gaming companies were
using local software, you can only imagine
how much of the $5 billion being lost
annually on software will be saved by
Nigeria! That amount represents a huge
leakage to our economy. So, gaming
companies are essentially software
companies with huge potentials for exports
and I believe we have enough local talent to
build software that can become dominant in
powering the industry world wide.
But is there any country you can sight as
example where gaming industry is hugely
adding to its economic value?
Let us not go too far. Let us look at the UK
and the US. What drives the economy of Las
Vegas, Macau? Some will call it tourism
while some call it entertainment and this is
part of the reason for poor data because it
touches different sectors. Some call it
gambling but elsewhere they are known as
the software or tech industry. The gaming
industry contributes hugely to the economy of
these countries. Even in Nigeria, the problem
is that we have just not been able to look at
it for what it is, and that is why we have not
been able to figure its exact contribution to
Nigeria’s GDP.
So, what is the association of which you are
the president doing to bridge this data gap in
order for you to be able to state
categorically the gaming industry’s
contribution to the GDP? I asked this
question because government may want you
to convince it what your contributions are at
the moment if it will have a sense of this
potential.
We have started engaging all the relevant
stakeholders. We also make available
templates to our members to assist us with
data capture; but the most effective way of
covering the leakages is to educate
government on the benefits and importance
of putting in place framework that will
enhance proper licensing, monitoring and
enforcement. As a first step to achieve this,
we are partnering with Clarion Events, owners
of ICE/EIG, to host a high level event this
year where we are going to have all the
critical government institutions in one room
to chart a way forward.
Lastly, who are those that constitute the
stakeholders of the gaming industry in
Nigeria?
The stakeholders are many. We have
government institutions, state governments,
those interested in entertainment, financial
institutions especially those involved in
payment processing; investors, operators and
even the punters. The truth is that we are all
stakeholders in this industry at some level.

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