Nigeria's National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) has assured sports betting operators in the country that it will look at ways to offer support to sportsbook licensees that see their businesses impacted by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Sports betting operators around the world have been negatively impacted by the outbreak, with wagering options being severely limited due to the cancellation or postponement of many sporting events.
The NLRC said that it would work with the Nigerian government to ensure the sports betting sub-sector of the country’s gambling industry does not suffer any undue setbacks as a result of the pandemic.
During a video conference with the NLRC, sports betting licence holders across Nigeria put forward a number of proposals for the government to consider to help safeguard the future of their business.
These proposals included a three-year tax holiday or a 50% cut in tax rates, as well as a call to have the government commit to not introduce new taxes until the crisis has ended.
“Let me assure everyone that government will do the best it can to protect every business within the industry, we cannot fold our arms and watch our industry with the huge investment therein go down the drain,” NLRC director general Lanre Gbajabiamila said during the call.
“I am optimistic that the federal government will not hesitate to give necessary approvals for any form of [assistance] that will ensure your business remains viable, because ours is a very peculiar industry which if properly harnessed would adequately shore up the much-needed [government] revenue.”
Operators on the call also raised concerns about unlicensed online operators in Nigeria, something they said had impacted their retail businesses, both before and during the pandemic.
Gbajabiamila said the NLRC remains determined to stamp out unlicensed activity in the country, but added that the regulator alone lacks the resources to deal with illegal gambling.
He therefore said the regulatory would look to have the country's Communication Commission, the Nigerian Technological Development Agency and the Central Bank of Nigeria join the fight against these operators.
It comes after a long-running debate over what consitutes an illegal operator threatened to resume, after the Lagos State Lottery Board (LSLB) blacklisted a number of NLRC licensees.
The LSLB had added GabLotto, Give ‘n’ take, MLotto, WesternLotto, WescoLotto, Chopbarh, Betbiga, Betwinner, Bet24hrs and Truthware Solutions, operator of the Zoomlifestyle lottery, to its blacklist. However, all the companies hold federal licences, which the NLRC said precluded the LSLB from blocking their operations in the state.
The state lottery board, formed before the national regulator, previously cracked down on operators licensed at a federal level, demanding these businesses secure an LSLB licence in order to continue targeting players in the state. This ultimately led to Lagos States’ then-governor Akinwunmi Ambode stepping in to mediate between the parties, in May 2019.