State Gaming Regulators Call for Unified of Processes, Licensing

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Emma Okonji

Disturbed by the undue interference on the activities of State Gaming Regulators by agents of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), the Association of State Gaming Regulators in Nigeria (ASGRN) has called on the federal government to checkmate the overlapping activities of NLRC, in order to avert the recent threat on the activities of state gaming/lotto regulators by the federal agency.

They have equally come out with a position statement on the constant frictions between the state and federal government regulators.

Rising from its recent emergency meeting, the body, which comprises representatives from states, currently regulating all gaming activities, has come up with a position statement, condemning, in strong terms, the lingering issues of rights to regulate the gaming industry between states and the federal government agency and other sundry issues.

Jointly speaking after the meeting of state regulators, the Chairman of Enugu State Gaming/Lotto Commission, Mr. Harrison Ogara and the Head, Pools and Betting Division of the Ogun State Internal Revenue Service (OGIRS), Mr. Felix Fagbohun, flayed the activities of the officials of NLRC who they said, were going from state to state to shut down gaming operators legally licensed by the state government.

The body noted that it was illegal for a national agency like the NLRC to claim rights to regulate gaming activities clearly under the residual list in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), adding that such activities are tantamount to eroding the very essence of true federalism.

Fagbohun further said: While some of its members have regulated the industry under gaming laws promulgated as far back as 1981 and 1991, the NLRC only came into existence in 2005. ASGRN is operating from the constitutional realm, and for NLRC to assume the roles it is playing now, the Commission must first seek for an amendment of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, because as it is today, gaming regulatory power lies in the states.”

While recounting some of their latest issues with NLRC, Ogara said: “When we noticed the obvious infraction on the provisions of our statute, the states were taken aback and surprised by this act, since the NLRC itself had reached out to the states to explore a joint approach to regulations, a development that was warmly embraced and supported by a few states. However, following concerted efforts of some of the states, a lot of progress had been made, until this unfortunate act by the NLRC.”

Ogara explained that the authors of the constitution in their wisdom, gave the regulatory role to states because of the peculiar nature of the industry, the states and their religious inclinations.

“Nigeria is a federation where the three tiers of government are expected to act independently together. We are also aware that there are cases in supreme court seeking for clarification over who has rights to regulate gaming in the country,” he said.

While justifying the right of the state to regulate gaming, the body pointed to the recent Bauchi State Government’s ban on all gaming activities in the state, citing several reasons. This singular realisation that gaming/gambling is prohibited by some religions and other factors, led to the placement of gaming regulation in the residual list of the constitution. As such, states that permit gaming have the inherent constitutional right to regulate the same gaming, the body said in a statement.

ASGRN is therefore calling on NLRC to understand that legally, its regulatory power only covers the ambit of the federal capital territory and setting up a viable National Lottery to challenge what is currently available in other countries along the West African sub-region. “Ghana Lotto for instance is very popular in Nigeria and one would ask why Nigeria cannot float a similar lottery,” ASGRN said.

The state regulators also condemned the current plan by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to introduce Value Added Tax (VAT) on gaming in Nigeria, adding that implementing VAT in gaming can have a devastating effect on the economy.