With the Super Eagles having a good run in the 2019 edition of the Africa Nations Cup, football fever is running high in Nigeria. The sport is huge in this West African nation which boasts of a massive population of close to 200 million.
Nigeria is a prime market for sportsbooks, given the popularity of sports there. The economy is also growing at a brisk pace, with rising incomes making sports betting an accessible form of entertainment for many Nigerians.
Like many of its peers in Africa and Asia, however, Nigeria does not have a proper legal framework to deal with gambling in the internet era. This is readily apparent when comparing Nigeria’s regulation to a developed economy like Australia for instance.
Let’s take a quick look at the main features of gambling regulations in Nigeria, and try to figure out where sports betting stands in the eye of the law.
The Two Laws That Govern Gambling Nigeria
Saying that gambling laws in Nigeria are outdated would be an understatement. In Nigerian legal codes, gambling has two laws associated with it, and both are anywhere from 30 to 40 years old!
These are the two Acts that specifically mention gambling in Nigeria:
- Gaming Machines Prohibition Act of 1977
- Criminal Code Act of 1990
The first one basically outlaws the ownership and operation of coin-operated gambling machines like slots. It does not have any implications on sports betting.
The criminal code identifies legal forms of gambling and places where you can go for this form of entertainment. In Nigerian law, games of skill are allowed, which is good news for sports betting enthusiasts.
Games of chance/luck are heavily controlled and prohibited across much of the country. The only notable exception applies to the three land-based casinos in Nigeria – they are allowed to host games of chance like roulette and slots machines.
If you explicitly go by the code, sports betting is not illegal in Nigeria. The reason is that winning a sports bet is not entirely predicated on luck. If you do your research and gain advanced knowledge about the teams and the match conditions, you can increase your chances of winning.
But do note that this law only applies to land-based sportsbooks, which are only allowed to operate as tote betting pools with a valid license. If they offer any other type of gambling, they could invite prosecution and stiff fines and imprisonment for the operators.
The grey area around online betting
The Internet has radically changed the way we do a lot of things in our lives, and gambling is no exception. Since it is a relatively new phenomenon that arrived on the global scene in the last two decades, laws are still trying to play catch in many parts of the world.
In the west, countries like the UK have embraced online sportsbooks and casinos wholeheartedly. Even the US is only starting to adopt pro-gambling legislation in a big way since 2018.
In contrast, Nigeria still doesn’t have any regulations in place to govern online gambling. This is a major disadvantage to the industry as a whole, but the risk is more for providers rather than players.
What we need to understand about online gambling in Nigeria is that it is not explicitly prohibited. Online gambling is not mentioned in the law books. So if there are any criminal cases or prosecution, you will have to interpret the existing laws on offline gambling.
This lack of clarity has led to a widespread proliferation of unlicensed online gambling entities in Nigeria. Players can also register and play at many legal casinos based outside the country. Since the prosecution of players is unheard of, people can bet without fear at these casinos and sportsbooks.
Online sportsbooks have an additional advantage
In the absence of specific laws on online gambling, sportsbooks have an advantage over online casinos. Online casinos use games of luck/chance, like slots, roulette, and lottos. The existing laws mandate that these activities are illegal offline. So it stands to reason that they would be considered illegal online as well.
In contrast, sports betting is based on skill, which is legal in Nigeria. Going by the same logic applied above, online betting on sports should not be illegal, since it involves skill and preparation and not just blind luck.
Football rules the Nigerian sports betting markets
Ever since the early 2000s, Nigerian stars like Jay Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu have raised the profile of Nigeria football in European leagues like the English Premier League. Issac Success, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Victor Moses all play at English club as of 2019.
As a result, Nigerians watch and follow their Super Eagles stars in major leagues, and English clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester united have massive fan bases in the country.
Sports betting on domestic as well as foreign club matches is a massive market in Nigeria these days. You can find offline bookies as well as foreign online sportsbooks that accept Nigerian punters in 2019.
Though football is by far the biggest betting market in Nigeria, other sports are also available. These include basketball, tennis, athletics, all have takers. One other interesting local sport with a huge following is Dambe Boxing, a traditional form of martial arts sport in Nigeria.
Online sports betting is relatively safe in Nigeria
Since it is not overtly prohibited, betting on sports in Nigeria carries less risk than many other countries in the world. The police and authorities do not have much interest in focusing on gambling, as they have their hands full with more violent forms of crime and terrorism.
Even if they do end up prosecuting illegal gambling operations, it is mainly the operators and businesses who face the wrath of prosecutors. Players are usually never targeted by the authorities in Nigeria.
But the current situation is not sustainable. With a thriving betting industry, the government is missing out on vital taxes by ignoring online betting. Surely things will change in the near future as online betting will grow too big for the authorities to ignore.
Until that happens, Nigerian bettors are safer when they bet at licensed offshore sports books and casinos. These at least offer some form of player protection, which is totally absent in local, unlicensed sportsbooks and casinos.