With the vulnerability of consumers in Nigeria’s gaming industry, ONYEKORMAKA ASABOR appraises the extent to which regulators have gone to protect bettors
A lot has changed within the Nigerian gaming landscape, as the sector has continued to expand, benefitting from the large youthful population, improved Internet penetration and increased access to Internet-enabled devices.
Sports betting has slowly emerged as a lucrative segment, leveraging Nigeria’s huge football culture. The Premier League, La Liga and other leagues across the globe have millions of fans in the country, and collectively provide a common platform for betting, which, to many youths, is a huge opportunity to earn from their passion.
Despite the dip in economic activities, there are growth prospects, even as the economy rebounds and income stabilises.
The National Lottery Regulatory Commission, established by the National Lottery Act 2005, was signed into law on March 30, 2005. However, the commission started full operation in 2009 when the then President Olusegun Obasanjo made Chief Peter Igho the Director-General. Since then, NLRC has been serving lottery operators, players and the public; to bring fair play, honesty, integrity and transparency into the business.
As not a few people see lottery from a derogatory prism, the commission was established to change the negative perception of the seven-letter word, and to make people see it as a way of raising funds for good causes.
With its current leadership, the commission has continued to play its regulatory role with a new zeal, through the deployment of leading technologies, as well as effective management of human and material resources for optimal realisation of its mandate.
Analysed from the foregoing perspective, one of the ways the commission is meant to serve the public is by ensuring that the under-aged population is not unduly influenced by lottery promoters into gambling, and to ensure that the collective interest of consumers are protected from unfair practices.
The most crucial area where consumers in the betting sector need to be protected, and which has, since the establishment of United Nations Children’s Fund, been a cause for concern, is that of ensuring that the under-aged are not allowed to engage in gaming. Little wonder, UNICEF, few years ago, published a set of recommendations for the online gaming industry, designed to guide and support gaming companies through a process of incorporating child rights considerations in their business.
As UNICEF asserted, the recommendations were published to document that: “Gaming companies have the responsibility to shape their platforms in ways that respect and support children’s rights. I hope these recommendations can help companies understand the impact and take action to improve their performance.”
Unfortunately, contrary to the recommendations, which highlight issues around healthy game time, ensuring inclusion and representation, avoiding toxic environments, consideration around age-limits and verification, combatting grooming and sexual abuse, and managing commercial influence, bettors that are under 18 years of age in Nigeria, and who are invariably children in this context, increasingly use gaming platforms to meet and engage beyond play.
Gab Omorodion, a resident of Pakuro in Mowe, Ogun State, said, “Players along the whole games value chain seem to have been ignorant of ways to integrate children’s rights more effectively.”
Recently, Nigerian sports gamblers on Twitter criticised MSport Betting Company for failing to credit its winners and voiding some games to reduce their winnings. With the hashtag, #MSportScam, the Nigerians urged the company to pay their winnings in full. It was learnt that ‘Mayor of Twitter’, a Twitter sports betting pundit, posted a betting code of 440 odds, which many bettors staked and won.
However, after winning huge sums, Nigerians started noticing that their expected winnings had reduced even beyond what they could call a mistake.
MSport voided the tickets of some bettors, who won millions of naira and indicated on the wallets of those, who withdrew immediately after winning that they owed them the exact amount they won.
The Betting Investor, a sports pundit, posted on Twitter that he staked on the 440 odds with N7,500 and expected to win N5.5m. But MSport voided some of the games on his ticket until his winnings were reduced to N1.1m.
MSport, which prides itself as the “Best Online Sports Betting and Live Betting Odds in Nigeria,” has been allegedly accused of fraudulently refusing to pay its customers’ winnings in the country. The victims took to Twitter to express their grouse using #MsportScam.
This followed series of allegations trailing online investment platforms in Nigeria and the recent crash of a sports investment platform, 86FB.
Need for more regulation
Some users claim that the gambling platform refused to pay them, and issued conditions instead. Users said there needs to be better sports betting regulations in Nigeria to prevent cases of fraud and refusal to pay out by gaming companies.
A user, @sportingking365, said, “There’s absolutely zero regulation for bookies in Africa. All they want to do is take, take and take. It’s sad.
“It was written boldly ‘including extra winnings’, but they marked @Ekitipikin’s game as loss and refunded stakes. How is it a loss? Do you even refund lost stakes? #MsportScam.”
Another, @surecr7, stated, “Let the world know @MSportOfficial is a scam betting platform. Let the world know that they don’t pay winning slips.”
Others warned that if the refusal to pay out winnings were not fixed, they would leave the betting platform. As @betgains said, “If Msport doesn’t rectify this, they should bid us bye because nobody is playing with them anymore.”
Lagos’ efforts to protect bettors
A peep into the industry shows that regulatory bodies, at the state and federal levels, have not been relenting, as they have made laudable efforts towards the protection of consumers in the sector.
As part of efforts to ensure proper regulation as well as promote sanity in the gaming industry, the Lagos State Government, about a year ago, named 37 unlicensed gaming operators in the state.
A release signed by the Chief Executive Officer, Lagos State Lotteries and Gaming Authority, Mr Bashir Are, at the time, advised residents to desist from patronising unlicensed gaming companies, to avoid scam.
He stressed that Section 5, Part II of the Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection) Act, Cap T2 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, gives exclusive authority of pool betting, lotteries, gaming, casino and related matters to state governments.
According to him, the 37 unregistered gaming companies were operating without the required approval of the state government.
Are further charged interested residents to visit www.lslb.lg.gov.ng for the list of licensed gaming operators approved to carry out gaming activities in the state.
Not only that, the regulatory body has been on the forefront of appealing to the general public to shield persons below the age of 18 from betting in Lagos.
Its message remains, “All operators must ensure that they adhere to responsible gaming policy by ensuring that under-aged are prevented from gaming. Any agent caught may be suspended or penalised.”
Further, LSLB has been emphasising, with a note of warning, that any operator could be shut down for failure to adopt responsible gaming policies and adhere to same.
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