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.
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.
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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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