Africa is almost there – says Yahaya Maikori

Adeleye Awakan interviews Yahaya Maikori partner Law Allianz and founder Global Gaming . Mr. Yahaya Maikori is a renown lawyer has advised, consulted and played numerous roles in Africa’s gaming industry, known by many as one of the industry’s legends.

Yahaya Maikori: I am a lawyer by profession.I am accredited to practice my profession in both Nigeria and the UK . Our firm is a boutique firm with core competence in entertainment,Intellectual property,sports, technology and gambling we have offices in Nigeria and a consulting office in Johannesburg.

Adeleye Awakan: Law Allianz is a well known brand in Nigeria and Africa what have been its success so far in Nigeria and Africa?

Yahaya Maikori: Our firm has focused in the areas I earlier mentioned but we are known more for our competence and pioneering work in gambling in Nigeria and across Africa .We have worked with several regulators across multiple African jurisdictions,advised some of the largest European brands seeking opportunities in the continent’s s growing industry . I believe that when the history of the industry is documented our role will be recognized not only because of the share volume of work we have undertaken or the diversity of the solutions we have proffered for clients but also because of the light we have shown on the industry’s potential.

Adeleye Awakan: Looking at your background, it shows your vast knowledge and experience in the Africa gaming industry. What do you think is the most pressing issue that must be addressed in Africa?

Yahaya Maikori: The answer can’t be the same for every country – it will be foolhardy to attempt such because most countries have developed in their own unique ways depending on culture, religion, infrastructure and their jurisprudence .

Having said that the legal framework still remains a pressing issue as everything else aligns based on that foundation.Even in territories where gambling is legal there are several grey areas that need addressing,So for example South Africa despite the size of the market and its development, remote gambling still remains politicized with no resolution in sight.

Adeleye Awakan:From the regulatory stand-on point since the emergence and massive penetration of gambling and betting in Africa over the last five years, how would you sum up regulation development in Africa?

Yahaya Maikori: It’s been more lip service than anything else and in most cases there is a total lack of capacity and lack of political will;while in some cases it’s simply the perennial problem most technology based industries confront- that of regulation playing catch-up with technology.Across Africa I haven’t seen any revolutionary or wholesome review of the laws yet even in the face of the growth of remote gambling though I have witnessed regulators implement changes which are not codified leaving room for uncertainty as to the office state of the law.

Adeleye Awakan: there has been so much conjecture about the future of online gaming in Africa and the likelihood of it overtaking retail in Africa. During the lockdown , social distance measures implemented across African seems to have tipped gaming in favor of online. What is your perspective on this , do you thinking online gaming has now come to stay ?

Yahaya Maikori: I doubt the crisis will substantially change the way players engage when things eventually go back to normal ,this is because the social and communal experience retail brings is engrained in our essence especially for those in the lower segment of the economic rung . Having said that, online has substantially grown during this COVID 19 and it will continue to grow albeit at a minimal rate after the lockdown. My thinking is that online is a forced option which has improved the customer’s options but I doubt that surpass retail in the nearest future.

Adeleye Awakan: Still, on regulation, there seems to be enough advocacy on gambling-related addiction and responsible gambling. For example, a few weeks ago it was reported that a Nigerian man lost his car due to gambling related debt in Enugu, while there have been some cases in countries in some East African countries. In Kenya, a student, played away his school fees, While in Rwanda, the government stopped issuing new gaming licenses because of underaged gambling . Unless this issue is addressed quickly, the industry is stands to loose a lot might from that kind of negative perception. What do you think is the best approach for stakeholders in the industry?

Yahaya Maikori: To have a sustainable industry operators may need to self regulate on this pressing matter,they should focus on the life time value of the players instead of exploiting the vulnerable in the society – the tax situation that arose in Kenya last year was partly a backlash from the Kenyan legislature which saw the unbridled activity of its operators as been dangerous to its youthful population .Beyond self regulation regulators especially Africa should be the key drivers of responsible gambling.Responsible gambling should be a cardinal policy focus of any regulator’s mandate .

Adeleye Awakan: For local gaming operators domiciled in certain African countries, their biggest fear is the predatory activities of offshore betting companies targeting their markets? What do you think is the solution, or how do you think gaming boards in Africa can protect local investors?

Yahaya Maikori: There are several initiatives which if effectively implemented can substantially reduce this form of economic sabotage .It may not be full proof but a combination of regulation ,technology and the political desire to protect local operators will drastically reduce the activities of these offshore companies. We are always available to discuss further with regulators who need our expertise on this .

Adeleye Awakan: In the last couple of years, Africa’s gaming industry has been growing. From your perspective, what do you think Africa can do right to reach that point of global reckoning ?

Yahaya Maikori: We are almost there – see the Betking deal, a $400 million valuation for a 2 year company operating in a few states in one country – that is indicative of what will happen in the industry in the next few years. Something that is quietly happening in the industry is operators either consolidating or acquiring companies in key African markets . Years ago we had more requests for licensing now we are getting more inquiries for mergers and acquisitions.There are some local brands that are grossing incredible revenues as we speak .

Adeleye Awakan: There has been this nagging tussle over the years between the National Lottery Regulatory Board and Lagos State Lottery Board on issues of jurisdiction. Lagos state government has blocked specific companies from advertising for lack of its license.while the National Lottery Regulatory Commission recently made a press release insisting on the right of its licensees to advertise and operate anywhere in Nigeria. As a lawyer and consultant, what do you think is the lasting solution to this situation?

Yahaya Maikori: The case is currently before the Supreme Court of Nigeria but note that this situation is not unique to Nigeria.We have a variant of this situation in Germany ,even in the US it wasn’t until 3 years ago when it was ruled that states could regulate online gaming . So in spite of my sympathy I will rather wait and see what the supreme court will say regarding this matter .

Adeleye Awakan: Localization is key for any company considering the gambling business . What do you think a company interested in Africa should consider before starting a gambling business in this region from your experience in the industry?

Yahaya Maikori: Research, working with locals to understand local nuances for the purpose of customizing business models and conducting proper due diligence on partners etc is sine quo non.Also starting small is important.

Adeleye Awakan: Africa has been attractive to several igaming brands over the years due to its youthful population. In contrast, sports betting has been the focus for most companies in this region. What do you think Africa should do right to attract more investments in other areas of the industry?

Yahaya Maikori: Well sports betting is the most popular form of gambling and investors believe that introducing new products or games will be tantamount to trying to reinvent the wheel, in any case the cost and risk of pushing a new product or game in an unknown market can be daunting especially for Europeans investors.

Perhaps we need more data on player behavior ,trends etc to bring market confidence to would – be investors or regulators can cap sports betting licenses depending on their market dynamics. I believe a lot can be done change investor habits depending on the country in question.

Adeleye Awakan: Eventus was the sole B2B event organizers in Africa for years . In recent years we are seeing new entrants i.e Clarion Event with ICE Africa while SIGMA recently announced its first Africa trade show scheduled for 2022. In the last few months because of the Covid-19 pandemic we have also seen two new B2B event organizers host digital events for Africa – SAGSE Africa and SBC Africa. From your perspective, what can you say to this development, and what impact do you think it will have on Africa’s gaming ecosystem?

Yahaya Maikori: It’s a great development it means that we are developing a market place for the African industry. Note that my other company ‘Global Gaming Africa” partnered with Eventus to host the 1st industry event in Lagos Nigeria in 2015 known as the “Sports Betting West Africa Summit” and we worked with Clarion Events to host the first session on Africa at ICE London before partnering with them to host World Regulatory Forum(WRF) in Lagos in 2016,Nairobi 2017 and South Africa which has now morphed into ICE AFRICA which has ran for 2 years in Johannesburg.

So it’s gladdening to see that our humble contributions to the industry hasn’t been a waste ,it shows both potential and growth .Some of the new companies will continue to run virtual events because of the prohibitive costs and logistics of running a live one but they will all add in one way or the other to the ecosystem.

Adeleye Awakan:, what advice do you have for some investors out there who are interested in the Africa gaming industry?

Yahaya Maikori: The time is now; with COVID tipping e-commerce even in Africa ,we expect to see profitable companies who are focused only on online. Habits. have changed.

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