Yahaya Maikori, Senior Partner at the law firm, Law Allianz, is better known as a gaming, e-commerce and entertainment lawyer. However, he has since made good in-roads into the gaming industry where he happens to be the President of the Nigeria Gaming Association. Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports on his encounter with him

It was getting close to midnight and the gathering at the table increased with arrival of each patron. The congregants were making small talk and reminiscences, apparently a continuation from previous discourse. It was a mix of Caucasian and Asian faces. No black face at all on the table. A lady was massaging the neck of one of the men like a boxer waiting for the bell to engage his opponent for another round of contest. In more ways than one, the business at the table was a serious deal; a duel that should not be taken lightly. The stakes were usually high. A win was what everyone hoped for. Losing was such a costly price nobody wanted to pay. A side table featured an array of different food and choice drinks. It was going to be a long night and the road ahead looked tasking. Every care had been taken to mitigate the anxieties (with generous portions of foods and drinks) that may come with the happy and bad times that usually attain any contest. The name of the game is Poker, a type of card game that combines gambling, strategy, and skill. Of course, betting is seriously involved.

My host, Yahaya Maikori knew a couple of the men. They exchanged some banters as the co-owner of the establishment walked in. After pumping his hands enthusiastically, he took him aside for a more intimate talk. Done with his informal meeting, Maikori and I sat at a table on the balcony, from where we had a good view of persons arriving to resume an all-night session at the exclusive get-away in Victoria-Island, Lagos. As we enjoyed a late dinner, there was an influx of clients piloted into the premises in some of the most elegant automobiles.

Maikori’s entry into the gaming industry was fortuitous. A friend recommended his services as a lawyer to a company that wanted to establish a casino in Nigeria. The registration was still going on when he got more than he bargained. He was offered some equity in the fledging business. He quickly followed the trail of the gaming trade around the world which revealed humongous opportunities and potential he never knew existed. Using his legal background, he learnt quickly and worked with other Nigerians to press for reforms and regulatory structure in the Nigerian gaming industry. His growing interest in gaming has helped his law practice. For instance, he has tapped into the global network and like he did with entertainment, he is steadily emerging as one of the leading voices for the gaming business in Africa.

His business trips frequently take him across Europe and Africa. An unbiased arbiter who does not allow patriotism colour his judgement, Maikori acknowledges the potentials in Nigeria while hoping for quicker growth. According to him, “The Nigerian casino sector is lagging behind the sports betting and lottery sectors. It had its time in the 70s however conflicting government laws which lacked clear policy directives lead to the demise of the industry. The biggest investments we have seen so far in Nigeria’s casino industry is from Sun International and another South African company with four outlets. Those are in sufficient. My guess is that Nigeria will surpass Kenya in the next five years, but I doubt it will surpass South Africa in the nearest future. Nigeria presents the best opportunities because of its large un-serviced population. For example, Lagos state (the fifth biggest economy in Africa) has between eight and 10 casinos servicing its 21,000,000 residents. Compare this to Nairobi which has a population of 4,000,000 people with over 60 medium seized casinos. So the 22,000,000 annual visitors that generate billions of dollars for Macua’s casino industry is actually a captive population in Lagos alone that is aside from business tourists. Other considerations include the licenses, fair taxes when compared to other markets; the growing youthful population desire different experiences and the continued growth of the entertainment industry which is projected to become the fastest growing in the world in the next three years.

To give an idea of what I am talking about, when Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State came to power over N4 billion (mainly from the gaming industry) was used to retool the security apparatus of the state.”
In the last couple of years, Maikori has been part of the opening of a few casinos in Lagos and has worked with various governments to deliver mutually beneficial gaming industry. Through the company, Global Gaming Group which he co-founded with John Kamara, a lot of landmark investment and partnerships have been forged. Maikori explains what the casino industry needs.

“I think the Nigeria casino market needs a different approach entirely; we may have to explore mid-sized integrated casino resorts and market it to the younger population as an aspect of entertainment instead of core gambling–we have started reviewing the current framework with a view to recommending incentives that will attract such investments. Another action that will help casinos will be the removal of Central Bank’s policy which bans financial institutions from lending to gambling institutions.”

Striking an ongoing excellent working relationship with his international partners, is a perfect example of the kind of understanding necessary to improve the gaming environment in Africa to attract participation of international companies. He said, “There are several misconceptions .One is that they fail to understand that Africa comprises of 53 different countries, hundreds of languages, religions and cultures with different infrastructural needs .One product or solution cannot be applied uniformly . Secondly there is a need to understand that Africans are very sophisticated punters and can adopt any product. Lastly Africa is inundated with games and products and what they need is impactful investments for expansion and consolidation of the current opportunities. My consultancy has taken me to several Africa countries what is however clear is that going forward gaming is going to become a significant contributor to the GDP of most African countries; some of the baby steps in some of the jurisdictions include severing gaming from their respective tax agencies. While on a higher scale several jurisdictions have bills at different stages of been passed into law. I think it has become imperative for regulators to take the issue of responsible gambling seriously as well as show case to the public how gaming taxes have significantly contributed to development. These twin issues must form the foundation of any serious regulator going forward; we have started to see the back lash with punitive taxes been imposed in some east Africa countries; the sentiment across most African countries are the same. I have sold and tried to explain that to most of the regulators I have worked with; some of the negative media is self-evident, the implementation of such policies must also be properly publicized and enforced.”

For many who cannot draw the line between lottery, casino and gaming. Maikori explained that gaming as an euphemism to simply to remove the negative impression conveyed by the word gambling. Essentially lottery is a pool kind of game, where you pool all the resources and apportion each share to the winners or the winner. Casino is a personal experience, It is actually a form of entertainment. Inside the casino, there are several types of games. The house can lose or the player can lose. In lotteries, the loss comes when tickets are generated are not enough to payout the winnings. In most jurisdictions, lotteries are run on exclusive basis by government. There are different types of lotteries. There are those that are meant for charity. Lotteries are run as a monopoly by the state for the benefit of the local people.”

Increase in the use of mobile technology and popularity of sports betting may be viewed by some as nailing the coffin of the casino industry, but Maikori does not see it as such. His optimism is infectious. “Three or four years ago, there were very few betting companies in Nigeria, right now there are many big brands coming. You are going to see a deluge of the big sports betting brands in Africa, coming to Nigeria. As more investment comes to that sector, going forward, you are going to see growth in the casino industry. You are going to see facilities that cater to that lifestyle. It is going to happen. It is in the process. Governor Ambode has big intentions for making Lagos the hub of the gaming industry, especially as regards to casino. Those who are going to drive that process are in the private sector who can bring in the funds to make it financially viable. If such opportunities come for partnership, it is good for government to look at it. Some of the cities that ready for thriving casino business include Lagos, Port Harcourt, Anambra, Oyo, Abuja, Kaduna and Jos. What happened in the past is that most casino most operators did not put in place some of the best practices which is a key element of any gaming environment. You must ensure that you protect people. In the past, increased religious activities, government policies that were put in place to ban or to frustrate the industry caused a set-back for the casino business. The good news is that we have seen a resurgence in recent times. Casinos are basically tied to the tourism industry.

There is a potential danger but you have to understand that land based casinos provide a different experience, in countries like the US and even in South Africa mobile has so far not been able to substitute that experience it can only become an extension. PWC projections show that in the next three years, Nigeria is going to become the fastest growing entertainment industry in the world, I think we are going to see a commensurate growth in the casino industry because of the linkage. I think as more people get to understand the different aspects of the casino industry which they can subscribe to, the more people will participate. One of the setbacks has been that most of the younger people do not have any kind of experience in the casino sector. That particular demographic has not really imbibed it as opposed to the older ones who knew about the thriving casino industry in the 70s and the 80s. If you look at the laws of most of the states in Nigeria, almost every state has some kind of law to govern pool, casino or lottery. Most of them were passed during the military era. It is not entirely new, it is just that you have a new demographic who are not exposed to it and they were born when the whole industry was stigmatized until the entry of technology. As that demographic starts to make their own income they are going to look for other ways to entertainment themselves.

The traditional forms of entertainment are going to become boring or obsolete at some point and they will try to look at other areas to entertaining themselves.”

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