Nigeria is threatening to shut down its leading gambling operator Bet9ja unless the company accepts the government’s ‘invitation’ to discuss their betting license.
This week, Obinna Ogba, chairman of Nigeria’s Senate Committee on Youth and Sports, suggested that the National Assembly take whatever action necessary to compel Bet9ja – 50% owned by Italian gambling operator Goldbet – to appear before the National Lottery Regulatory Commission to verify the company’s license.
The Commission had summoned the nation’s betting licensees, and local media reported that around 20 operators had participated in the verification exercise. For reasons that are yet unclear, Bet9ja, Nigeria’s dominant land-based and online betting operator with an estimated 60% of the local market, had yet to respond to the government’s invitation.
On Tuesday, local media quoted Ogba declaring that “we want to see Bet9ja. They can’t run away.” Ogba (pictured) instructed government officers to issue a final summons to Bet9ja, and if the company failed to appear, “we will ask the National Lottery Commission to seal [Bet9ja’s] offices.”
Ogba stated that the exercise was necessary because some companies have failed to make the necessary remittances to the government. Other companies had yet to launch their local operations within the mandated one-year window after receiving their licenses, while some operators that had launched were the subject of customer complaints.
Nigeria’s betting market is believed to be worth around $1b per year, and the government has been complaining for years about its gambling licensees failing to ante up an appropriate share of their revenue. It remains to be seen whether these new threats against the country’s market-leading operator signal a stiffer resolve to do anything about the problem.
Some local gamblers were dismissive of Ogba’s threats, with one wag suggesting that Nigerians were more likely to call for shutting down the senate than see Bet9ja forced to close its doors. However, others were supportive of the government’s efforts, citing betting operators as a growing menace to Nigerian society.
Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) recently announced plans to impose value added tax (VAT) on lottery and gaming activity. The precise mechanism for imposing this requirement on local betting operators remains unclear, but operators fear they will be required to impose VAT on betting stakes. Operators have expressed alarm that such a step would encourage gamblers to seek out more favorable offerings via internationally licensed online sites.
The Nigerian government’s growing antagonism toward its gambling sector increasingly mirrors new policies in Kenya, where the government is taking a tougher stance on issues ranging from taxation to advertising.