How Nigeria Measures Up to Global Sports Betting Trends

Iyke Bede writes that strides have been made in localising the sports betting sphere, with an increasing number of operators infusing indigenous elements to evoke player sentiments

Two decades ago, the organised sports betting and lottery sector in Nigeria was practically non-existent. Although activities were recorded in brick-and-mortar stores as pools, they were not regulated by an official body recognised at a state or federal level, making assessment of the sector almost impossible. 

Fast-forward to the present, and that story has shifted to one in which regulatory bodies, operators, and stakeholders hold various conferences, such as the Africa Gaming Expo, Sports Betting West Africa (SBWA) Summit, and various summits organised by state regulatory bodies, to assess the sports betting landscape and foster collaboration for growth and development.

This expansion of the sports betting sector was not a self-made effort. It was propelled by collaborations with other sectors, notably technology and financial institutions. These factors, alongside a rapidly growing population, disposable income, burgeoning interest in a diverse range of sporting events beyond football, and heightened awareness of the sports betting sector through a rising number of operators leveraging both traditional media and social platforms, contributed significantly to its growth.

Revenue generation is a primary metric for evaluating sectoral growth. However, an aspect often poorly highlighted is the sector’s alignment with prevailing global trends. Such alignment is crucial for sustained expansion and increased investor interest.

Amid contemporary trends, mobile betting has garnered more interest from bookmakers and wide acceptance from punters over the past decade, owing to its convenient accessibility via walk-in stores, websites, and mobile apps. By comparison, in the US, Drive Research reported that three out of four bettors prefer making wagers online or via mobile apps. Conversely, 36.8 per cent of bettors in Nigeria (via TGM Research) prefer the online/mobile app route. 

The remaining 25 per cent of bettors in the US cite in-person sports betting as a means to control finance better. The appeal of interacting with a physical person also accounts for this in-person preference; however, in the local sector, in-person betting has become a means to bypass providing KYC information and has encouraged underage betting.

Another entrenched facet of the online betting trend is the in-play betting option, which allows punters to place bets on live events as they happen. In-play betting has garnered favour among novice bettors who depend on social betting for nearly accurate predictions shared via social betting platforms prevalent on Telegram channels. The local sector has a full grasp of this concept. 

On the regulatory side, the National Lottery Regulatory Commission and its state-level counterparts adopt regulatory frameworks similar to those of international bodies like the Malta Gaming Authority. However, they have failed to distinguish the blurred lines between federal and state regulatory bodies’ jurisdiction, resulting in the double taxation model that weighs heavily on operators. 

For data collection, the NLRC relies on operators to provide the necessary information (compliance and reporting obligations). Regardless of whether the figures accurately reflect the current situation, the Commission may never ascertain the true state of affairs until it initiates the Central Monitoring System, enabling direct access to each operator’s database in real-time to plug the gaps in its knowledge and gain a comprehensive understanding of the industry’s dynamics.

Regarding the operators’ responsibilities, many, through an ambassadorial deal, have been able to elevate the status of local players, mostly veterans of the game. It has also embarked on the entertainment route to recognise entertainers, leaning towards this demographic to attract and retain a customer base. Unlike global trends, where the primary focus is on clubs or national teams, local operators, including foreign ones with licences in Nigeria, show little to no interest.

“If Nigerian football clubs, the Nigerian Football Federation probably does its homework and ensures that the essence of partnership with football clubs is that there is a proper viewing, right? I don’t think that there is proper viewing for the Nigerian football leagues. Nothing is cast in stone. Well, let’s be sincere, Bet9ja tried it and pulled out, and BetKing tried it and pulled out. Nigerian football is not even shown on DStv. You have Kenyan football shown on DSTV. So, it is a big problem in the Nigerian football league. It needs to be sorted out,” former Country Manager of Parimatch International, Oyindamola Michaels, in a chat with GAMING WEEK, nuanced why the trend of sponsoring local clubs has yet to be a staple in the sector.

The sector still grapples with underage and irresponsible gambling. The NLRC, various operators, and independent bodies have launched several initiatives to address these issues, but a comprehensive solution remains elusive due to a gap in data and analytics. The launch of the Central Monitoring System is likely to tackle this issue effectively.

While the adoption of eSports is on the rise, the sector itself lags in tailoring gaming experiences to resonate with local audiences. Particularly within the realm of casino software, there remains a dearth of African-centric games presented in electronic formats to stimulate interest. Aspiring participants are compelled to familiarise themselves with the rules of Western games to engage.

However, strides have been made in localising the sports betting sphere, with an increasing number of operators infusing indigenous elements to evoke player sentiments. Hammer Games recently incorporated traditional visual motifs such as cowries and characters adorned in customary attire, signalling a shift towards greater cultural resonance.

With a shift to online platforms, the ease of transaction, security and consumer data protection have been at an all-time high. This advancement in fintech solutions is slowly heralding the use of cryptocurrency, providing additional flexibility and anonymity. This has not been the case in Nigeria following the crackdown on cryptocurrency platforms.

“In Nigeria, unfortunately, even the government, through the CBN, does not recognise Bitcoin as having monetary value. They, in fact, disallow it. Because as far as the government is concerned, Bitcoin does not have a particular value behind it, like, let’s say, gold reserves. It is just a value that is driven by the markets. And so, it’s so volatile. Also, it is easier for people that want to launder money through Bitcoin, and you find it very difficult to track. In fact, some companies that accepted it before are beginning to clamp down on it now. In Nigeria, Bitcoin is not accepted,” Managing Director of Sax Innovative Network Limited, Yomi Oketope, explained.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies gradually converge within sports betting and casinos, offering players an immersive gaming experience using avatars, seamlessly blending physical and digital interactions. However, the sophistication of this technology at its current stage highlights the inadequacies in infrastructure, compelling operators to refrain from widespread adoption due to its high costs and limited scalability.

Nigeria’s sports betting landscape has experienced remarkable growth and transformation over the past two decades. It has evolved into a thriving industry from virtually non-existent sectors, propelled by technological advancements, a burgeoning population, and increased interest in diverse sporting events.

However, challenges such as underaged and irresponsible gambling persist, requiring concerted efforts from regulatory bodies and operators. Despite strides in localising the sector and embracing online platforms, issues such as the lack of recognition for cryptocurrency and infrastructure inadequacies hinder its full potential. Nonetheless, with continued innovation and collaboration, Nigeria’s sports betting industry promises further expansion and cultural resonance in the future.

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