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Lagos Assembly set to address controversies in betting, lotteries through legislation

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Mudashiru Obasa


• Lawmakers consider tough punishment for cultism

Two critical issues affecting the economic wellbeing and security of citizens of Lagos State were brought to the fore the last two plenaries by the Lagos State House of Assembly. Crucial to the lawmakers, who instead of their usual plenary, organised a public hearing on Friday, August 14, 2020 to enable critical stakeholders participate in the deliberation of a bill entitled: ‘Lagos State Lotteries And Gaming Authority Bill Arrangement of Sections’. The bill is aimed at specifying, which level of government, between state and federal, has the right to tax operators in the sector, so as to avert a constitutional row.

In considering the bill, the Lagos Assembly specified the payment of N20 million share capital for the operators of lottery, pools and betting in the state. Proponents of the bill state that before a license is granted to an operator, the authority shall be satisfied that the applicant is a registered company in Nigeria with a minimum share capital of N20 million or as may be directed by the authority.

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The bill also specifies that the local content shareholder should abide by the regulations, policies, terms and conditions issued by the authority. It was argued that when the bill is finally passed into law “it will consolidate all the laws in the sector and repeal existing laws such as the Lagos State Lotteries (Amendment) Law 2008, the Lagos State Lotteries Law (2004), and the Casino and Gaming Regulatory Authority Law (2007).”

Other laws that may be affected by the passage of the new bill include the Casino and Gaming Regulations (2007), Pools Betting Control Law (2003) and Pools Betting Tax Law (2003).

While speaking on behalf of the Speaker, Mr. Mudashiru Obasa, his deputy, Wasiu Sanni-Eshinlokun, in the keynote address, said legislative functions and the legislature are the bedrock of democracy. Obasa emphasised that a sound legislature must be the aggregation of all the common interests of the majority, and that it must perceive the interest of the people and aggregate it.

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According to him, “For Nigeria, especially Lagos, to achieve the essence of democracy, the legislative arm of government must be in tune with the people. This underscores the essence of this public hearing. The worldwide gaming is worth $200 billion. Several Nigerians are involved in games and sports bettings. Its addictive nature calls for caution, and it is our view that the 2008 lottery law needs an amendment as the bulk of the games are done on mobile gadgets.”

One of the reasons the legislators possibly decided to take the issue of lottery and gaming seriously in the state is its addictive nature and the rising crime rate associated with it.

In his contribution, Majority Leader of the Assembly, Sanai Agunbiade, said the document, which has 109 sections with three regulations was meant to establish Lagos State Lottery and Gaming Authority and regulate all gaming activities and other connected purposes.

Also present was the state’s Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Rabiu Olowo, who disclosed that a lot has changed in the Nigerian gaming sector in the last 10 years, adding that most of the people involved are youths.

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“This necessitated concerted focus in the area by government,” Olowo said. Although Olowo said that the future of gaming in Nigeria was bright, he added that regulations have to be robust. “The Bill addresses cyber-security and addresses the concerns of many people. I want to urge all stakeholders to take it serious,” he said.

The Chairman of House Committee on Finance, Rotimi Olowo, said in an interview that he was moved by the response of stakeholders and the operators that attended the event. Olowo, who represents Shomolu Constituency 1, said the bill was meant to consolidate gaming and virtual lottery in the state.

According to him, “We have different licenses for individual products in the sector. The people have ventilated their opinions and we will work on them. The law is not meant for the operators alone, it is also meant for the regulators. We will look into all the areas. They are talking about service charge of 3 per cent, and they say it is small, but the sector is huge. We are not talking about digging into their data, but they should give us correct data.”

He noted that the Bill would help the state to generate enough money that would be plied into the health sector, environment and even sports sector. Olowo stated further that the money was not coming into the consolidated fund of the state, saying it is meant to take care of the welfare of the citizenry. He further explained that the state wanted a law that would consolidate all the laws in the sector.

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“It has about 109 sections and each of the section is not talking about the same thing,” he said. “Some talk about lottery, gaming and others. We want to have all the laws in one place. So, we will look at their positions and work on them. The regulators would look into the issue of N20 million. We would look at the socioeconomic reality and allow sanity into that sector.

“Some funny guys, who are into ‘yahoo-yahoo’ come into the business, and some of them are involved in money laundering. Many Nigerians want to come into the sector, but they don’t have the wherewithal. So, we will not protect foreigners to the detriment of Nigerians. We can reduce the percentage; not that somebody who has money will just come into it and we will allow Nigerians to suffer.”

He explained that the state would soon go into virtual gaming and that it has a lot of potential for the people of Lagos. He added that the Assembly would not deter investors or discourage residents of the state.

MEANWHILE, a stakeholder in the sector, Mr. Adebagun Nojeem of Lagos Pool Promoters, urged the Assembly to involve stakeholders in the gaming sector in the State Lottery Board, pleading that the issue of N20 million share capitals should be reconsidered and made flexible.

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According to him, “Such amount would have retroactive effect on the companies that have been registered. Pool is a game of senior citizens. With the new capital base, we may go under. The 10 per cent charge on sales should be reduced to about 2.5 per cent, while penalty of N2.5 million should be reduced to one million or N500, 000 and the issue of imprisonment should be removed.”

Another stakeholder, Mr. Tokunbo Akande from Lagos Internal Revenue Service (LIRS), said that the terms ‘licensing fees’ or ‘royalties’ should be used in the bill instead of taxes and that there should be room for dispute resolutions in the bill. Also, Mr. Niyi Adekunle from Grand Lotto said that the first license fee for lottery was issued in 2008 for N200 million, which he said was huge money that needed to be reduced.

Mr. Chima Onwuka from Nigerian Licenses Lottery Operators said that the taxation and levies being imposed were becoming too many, and called for the elimination of multiple taxation. He said that the investors and operators were in the business to make money not to be driven aground.

While Mr. Oyeniyi Emmanuel called for a parallel platform for dispute resolution, Mr. Clement Okoli from BetWay Nigeria advised that the House Committee should relate with the regulators and key operators for inputs before the bill is passed into law.

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Emmanuel said that in sports betting almost every product is licensed separately, and that one license should cover the whole business and that they should relate with industry experts before the bill is passed into law.

The Assembly in its earlier plenary, deliberated on Lagos State Procurement Agency Bill and Unlawful Societies and Cultism Bill are aimed at reducing the menace of cultism that currently pose threats to security and the future of youths. Both Bills passed through the second readings. One of the considerations for the cultism bill is the suggestion that parents of convicted cultists should also be subjected to punishment as prescribed by the proposed law.

The Bills had earlier passed through their first reading on Monday, July 27, 2020. The two Bills are meant to tackle the menace of cultism and related crimes and to fortify the procurement process in the state.

During consideration of the amendment sections on the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency Law, Gbolahan Yishawu, who represents Eti-Osa Constituency 11, noted that the amendment serves as a welcome development, which will make the procurement process seamless and easier without compromising accountability and transparency.

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Agunbiade said the amendment of the Bill would strengthen Public Procurement Law and also guarantee that contracts and services are delivered as specified in the contractual agreement as well as prevent abandoned projects in the State.

Further, the lawmakers also deliberated on the amendment sections on a Bill for a Law to provide for the prohibition of unlawful societies and cultism, Eshinlokun-Sanni observed that cultism is a threat to the peaceful co-existence in the State and the amendments of the section will address those threats.

REACTING, a former Deputy National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, said the issue of meting out punishment to cultists or their parents should not be the utmost concern of Lagos lawmakers for now but how to create job opportunities for the unemployed youths in the state and across the country.

While he condemned cultism and those engaging in it, George said the lawmakers and relevant security agencies, including critical stakeholders and politicians, need to deliberate on why cultism is becoming rampant in the last few years, especially since Nigeria returned to democratic government. George expressed skepticism whether the punitive measures being proposed by the Lagos Assembly for cultists and their parents would bring about positive result or change of attitude among the youths, so long the problem of unemployment is not addressed.

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In another reaction, the 2019 governorship candidate of the Lagos chapter of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), Abiodun Dabiri, said the greed and wastefulness of Nigerian politicians, especially in Lagos State, must be addressed first before the society could think of getting rid of cultism.

According to him, “The rate at which population is growing in Lagos is alarming and it places the state on a time bomb that can explode at any time. Imagine the number of unemployed and homeless youths in our society? Majority of these youths who engage in cultism today are frustrated; they are forced into it because they have no other option or means of making ends meet. While I will not support cultism or any other related crime, the onus is on our politicians to do the right thing by creating the necessary environment for our youths to thrive. If this is done, the number of people that would be engaged in cultism would be significantly small.”

In a similar vein, two-time governorship candidate of PDP in Lagos State, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, also tasked the lawmakers and other critical stakeholders to address the issue of unemployment to stem the problem of cultism.

According to him, “There is a deeper issue of securing the future of our youths by putting the right education and skill acquisition systems in place. Many of the youths are lured into cultism because they see it as a means to secure their future and get to positions of influence in the society. This is one of the ills bedeviling our nation since the return of democratic rule in 1999.”

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