Nigerian legal expert Olafadeke Akeju, partner at WYS Solicitors is sharing her thoughts on the continent’s gambling industry. Akeju, an ICE Africa Champion, believes that communities, operators, and regulators need to work together and that there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the African market.
What are your key goals in terms of developing Nigeria’s position on the continent?
As an industry consultant with both a regulatory and an advisory background, my aim is to enlighten as much as possible on the existing regulatory, operational and licencing framework in Nigeria and provide adequate information for prospective investors and providers interested in the Nigerian market.
How would you assess the key market dynamics?
We are likely to witness mergers, acquisition and consolidation in the gaming industry in the short term. Also, the stalemate that persists in the regulatory framework and licensing process in Nigeria is getting attention with a view to achieving a sensible resolution.
There is a renewed focus on responsible gaming, in your eyes how do you achieve the balance between social responsibility and enabling business to operate in a competitive environment?
The call for responsible gaming shows that the market is evolving and that the focus is shifting from having an effective licensing process to the assessment of gaming as a business and its impact on the society. Stakeholders have to recognize that business will thrive when it is embraced by the community. The rising general perception that the adverse effect of gaming exceeds its benefit to society is a pointer that operators and regulators are not doing enough.
A combination of regulatory policies and social responsibility initiatives by operators is required to find the missing balance. Operators must be seen to contribute to the development of the community. Gaming businesses must offer more than employment opportunities and a source of income to be considered socially responsible. No doubt every business has its negatives, but operators must actively contribute to the clean-up of the adverse effect of gambling especially gambling addiction and actively promote self-exclusion. Advertisements aimed at enticing patronage should also include messages condemning addiction and emphasize responsible gaming. It is not enough to have this in small prints of the terms and conditions.
Gaming companies cannot rely on the lack of a regulatory directive on responsible gaming. A knee jerk reaction to impose regulation may erode the industry or prohibit gaming as seen in some parts of the continent. As a consequence, regulatory policies must ensure that all stakeholders collectively protect the vulnerable among us and give fair returns back to players. The industry must not sacrifice moral decency on the altar of profit.
Do you feel regulation can ever keep pace with an industry powered by technology?
Technology drives most human interaction and activities; it is not peculiar to the gaming industry. If legislation or regulation of other sectors keeps pace with technology, then the gaming industry should not be left out.
The challenge with legislation in many African countries is that it pre-dates the online era and sports betting as a business. A number of African countries put regulation in place in the last decade and regulators are still grappling with understanding the operation of technology driven gaming while also required to provide regulation to operators of the business. Also, lack of access to study the operations of sports betting businesses and an independent monitoring/appraisal system makes it difficult for regulators to perform optimally.
The good thing about technology is that it also provides access to resources which regulators and law makers should utilize to learn more about the operation of online gaming while studying the framework in more developed jurisdictions. ICE Africa presents a platform to compare notes with fellow regulators, providers and key stakeholders in the industry.
In Nigeria, changes in regulation of complementary sectors have a positive impact on gaming industry regulation. For instance, the introduction of an aggregator system in the telecoms sector by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) requires all mobile transactions to pass through an aggregation platform. The implication is that gaming regulators can collaborate with the NCC to access gaming related transactions on mobile platforms.
For African countries in the process of amending gaming laws and developing a national gaming policy, the emphasis must be on providing a flexible legislative framework which empowers regulators in consultation with stakeholders to develop policies and introduce processes in response to technological advancement.
WYS works with regulators, government agencies, operators and investors, service providers and suppliers across the gaming and gambling spectrum, what does ICE Africa represent to you?
ICE Africa is a credible initiative that offers networking and learning opportunities for industry stakeholders. The exhibition aspect of the event provides a platform to meet with various product, software and complementary service providers and to compare offerings; this would otherwise be beyond the reach of many operators and stakeholders.
More specifically, the event must be customized to the specific needs of the continent. Despite its obvious similarities, Africa is rife with differences, peculiarities and individualities by countries and regions which must be incorporated into the ICE Africa offering. Effort must be made to continue to identify and address front burner issues on the continent.
Product and service providers participating at ICE Africa must also seize the opportunity to identify Africa’s peculiarities and offer products/services tailored for the African market.