What could Nigeria learn from the UK’s gambling laws?

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Of all the countries in Africa, Nigeria has often been identified as one with the greatest potential for the growth of its gambling industry. As a country which relies heavily on a rapidly depleting oil supply to contribute to its GPD, looking towards the future of gambling could be a great way to grow the country’s economy. But, before the country is able to do this, there are a number of factors that will need to be resolved at government level.

The law as it stands

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Owning or operating slot machines in Nigeria could mean a spending a year in prison.

Current legislation, under Chapter 22 of the country’s Criminal Code set in 1990, outlines that most forms of gambling are against the law, the only exceptions being:
  • Skill-based card games​
  • Backgammon​
  • The national lottery
  • Certain pools and racing totes
It’s also illegal to own or operate gaming apparatus such as a slots machine with a potential prison sentence of up to one year for breaking the law.

There are, however, three “bricks and mortar” casinos in the country, two of which are in Lagos with the third one based in Abuja. These are mainly frequented by tourists and make a valuable contribution to the local economy, both in terms of the taxes that they raise and the employment opportunities that they offer.

When it comes to online casinos the picture becomes a little more complicated as they aren’t mentioned in any of the gambling laws that the country has adopted. This effectively means that online gambling is allowed, even for games in which no skill is required. At one point there was even a home-grown online casino that started up in the country, but this has subsequently closed down. This has left players with no option but to start using overseas operators where they can find all the games that they want to play as well as a business that is well governed and regulated. One of the most popular options, with a huge choice of high-quality games to play are UK online casinos.

Illegal operators

Regulation is very important given that many Nigerians’ use the many illegal gambling services that operate in plain sight in the country. These range from underground casinos to organised football betting syndicates and in many cases, they are either outright scams or ran by those who will choose whether or not to honour a bet.

This means that when a gambler feels that they have been badly treated they have no way to complain and no legal backing behind them. It also means that these illegal operators are free to go on cheating and scamming even more people. One might expect that the police would be keen to close down these illegal activities. But they have far more pressing concerns to worry about and limited resources to deal with them.

Given this situation in which a great deal of betting, both legal and illegal, is going on it could be a very good idea to take a leaf out of the UK’s book which has a highly regulated gambling industry that also raises many millions of pounds in tax revenue for the country each year.

Using the UK model

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Tony Blair led the Labour government which reformed gambling laws in the UK

The UK’s own revolution in gambling legislation came in 2005 when the Labour government, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, decided to examine the laws surrounding all kinds of gambling and reform them. Unlike Nigeria’s approach, which has been to overlook online gambling, these reforms took this into account along with casinos, horse racing and even high street bookmakers.

To oversee the revamped industry an organisation called The Gambling Commission was also set up. Their role is to oversee all aspects of the gambling industry, to issue licences for operators and to impose sanctions, including taking away operating licences, if they are found to be breaking the rules or treating customers unfairly.

Since these changes have come into force, the gambling industry has seen an explosion in growth across all areas. This includes everything from sports betting and bingo sites, to the emergence of fun and engaging gambling games like the ones at 888 Casino, a leading and excellent UK online casino.

Where once betting on the outcome of a football match was a real minority activity now it is common place. The fact that many of the UK’s Premier League and Championship football clubs are also sponsored by online betting operators gives a good indication of just how much impact it has had. Because the Gambling Commission is an independent body it’s able to take an impartial standpoint and offer genuine support to both the gambling operators and their customers. For the latter this means that if they have any disputes, they know who to turn to for support and help. It’s also beneficial for the operators, it gives them a clear legal framework in which to operate and means that they are 100% clear when it comes to their duties and responsibilities.

Obviously there have been examples in which some less reputable operators have had to be sanctioned and even stripped of their licences. But the fact that this has happened demonstrates that the system is an effective one.

Looking to the future

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A change in the laws could mean an influx of online gambling operators in Nigeria, leading to a brighter future for the industry

Setting up a similar organisation to oversee gambling would have some very obvious benefits for Nigeria as a whole, not to mention the estimated 60 million Nigerian adults who enjoy betting. In the same way, introducing changes to the law that acknowledge the existence of online gambling and establishing key rules would also be beneficial.

As to whether this is likely to happen any time soon is difficult to predict. It’s certainly true that the online infrastructure is in place to give many more Nigerians access to the internet and if the government had been as quick to act in line with this then it could be a very different story. As it is, we’ll have to play a waiting game until the time comes when a legislative overhaul arrives. But when that could be really is unknown for now.
 
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