In recent times there has been lots of excitement about the African gaming market for reasons which are not farfetched, given its demographic asset, which presents a growth opportunity for many companies. Of the 53 African countries Nigeria is undoubtedly the largest market by virtue of its population making it the preferred investment destination for most gaming companies, but beyond the excitement about the industry and its prospects, what is the value of Nigeria’s gaming industry? Do we have any supporting data? As always we have looked to companies like PWC and a host of other institutions to guide us. For example PWC’s 2015 – 2019 gaming outlook while projecting that gaming revenues were up by 17%, based its projections on only 3 licensed casinos in Nigeria.
In reality casinos occupy the lowest rung of the Nigerian gaming ladder, PWC’s gaming outlook distorts the impact of the industry and how it permeates our economic life. A cursory look at the assumptions indicates a lack of understanding or appreciation of the industry.
Our industry is grossly misconceived and this misconception manifests itself in frequently asked questions like “do Nigerians’ gamble?” “Is gambling legal in Nigeria” etc.? The National lottery Act defines lottery to”… include games of chance or skill”; though the definition may be unwieldy it definitely expands the frontiers of the industry beyond what it is traditionally known. If the NLRC definition is anything to go by then it means that even the “Ayo Ayo’ played across Africa forms part of the industry and it predates any form of contemporary gaming device, which currently exists in Africa.
The legality of gambling in Nigeria has been questioned severally partly because of controversy surrounding the1977 slot machine prohibition act; the act was not meant to prohibit gambling in general, the law simply sought to regulate indiscriminate littering of slot machines across the length and breath of the country. On whether Nigerians gamble or not, that depends on the class you belong to. The truth is that the generality of our people are casual gamblers but we are certainly active when it comes to mobile-based wagering, raffles draws, promos etc. At the lower end of the spectrum pools betting and lottery has been part and parcel of our lives from colonial times. Though we are a religious set of people our religious sensibilities ironically endear us to the fundamental principles of gambling, the concept of miracles, sowing a seed and reaping large and immediate rewards.
Traditionally gaming has been stigmatized in our climes but casinos and slot institutions have been the biggest victims of our selective moralization of the industry, while raffle draws and similar schemes have become widely accepted without so much thought as to the underlying fact that they are laundered forms of gambling. If the NLRC’s definition is anything to by it means that even the video games played with consoles or preloaded on the phones of our 133million mobile subscribers or those played on desk /laptops, promos, raffle draws by corporate organizations i.e. telcos , banks, fmcgs etc. form a significant portion of the industry ,though they run into billions of Naira every year they have never been considered as part of the industry.
In general we may have our reservations about sports betting we however subconsciously rationalize this type of wagering because it is tied to our passion for sports, in any case sports betting cannot survive on its own, it piggy bags on sports events. Interestingly while we consider Lotteries a form of gambling it has never really been stigmatized maybe because of its historical and religious roots.
Now that we have defined gambling in accordance with Nigeria’s law; as well as established that almost all Nigerians are involved at some level , what is the size of the gaming industry in Nigeria? How does it contribute to our GDP? Was is ever captured during the rebasing of the economy? If it was under which subsectors was it captured? under ICT, entertainment or tourism?.
Yahaya Maikori is the Senior Partner of Law Allianz