Nigeria’s Male-dominated Sports Betting Industry

Iyke Bede captures the phenomenal rise of Maha Otu from a telesales professional and customer care consultant to the team lead and, eventually, director of BetWinner, a sports betting brand

Until fairly recently, betting in Nigeria was largely an underground activity that didn’t have much appeal to younger generations. However, in recent years, there has been a renaissance in the industry that has attracted a new demographic — female bettors and executives.

Over a decade, sports betting companies have become increasingly popular. This is a result of experiencing significant growth that is attributable to several factors, such as a rise in technology, increased internet access, and growing interest in competitive sports.

Maha Otu

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has a large population of over 200 million people, and a significant percentage of this population are young people interested in sports and gaming. This has created a huge demand for sports betting services, and several companies have emerged to meet this demand by offering an array of services and products to retain and expand their customer base.

One such company is BetWinner, a Malta-based sports betting company that entered the Nigerian betting scene, vying to grab a significant lump of the multi-billion-Naira industry. Its emergence coincided with the third phase of the eased lockdown in September 2020. Aware of existing competition and the pandemic’s socio-economic impact, the company developed a strong marketing strategy by opting to operate as an online-only platform.

To achieve this feat, the group of shareholders contracted the expertise of Maha Otu, a former telesales professional and customer care consultant, to join as the team lead. With a small workforce of five persons, she conceptualised these strategies to penetrate the market and hit the ground running.

Within two years, that number had doubled in size in terms of direct staff employment. On the other hand, Otu recruited numerous ad-hoc staff for marketing purposes for its offline activities in Lagos, Oyo, and Anambra. This expansion was also reflected in her official title at the company when she was promoted to director in 2021—an unprecedented feat in the male-dominated industry.

“Nobody actually expects to have a young person, let alone a young lady, be a director in a sports betting company in Nigeria,” – Otu told the Gaming Week team at her Ikeja office in Lagos.

“As team lead, I was the one that personally set up the company here in Nigeria, got the team, employed everybody initially, and then tried to grow the company. I think the shareholders saw something in me that maybe I didn’t see myself and decided to appoint me as a director in 2021. For me, at that point in time when we were all locked down, it was a time to learn, and I think for most people, too. I was initially thinking of leaving the industry and going into tech. But when I was appointed as a director, I had to take up this full responsibility and understand that I have a bigger role to play in the industry than what I thought,” – she explained.

Leaving school in 2016, the Industrial Chemistry graduate of Kwara State University, Ilorin, had aspired to embark on a career in a brewery. But her dreams were shattered due to Nigeria’s persistent year-on-year increase in unemployment rates.

“As it happens, we have to make do with what we get in Nigeria. So, I started in telesales with a telco company, and from there I got a job as a customer service consultant in a sports betting company,” Otu noted. “I think that’s the best way to start; starting from the very bottom, interacting with customers and really understanding challenges that customers may face, both online and offline.”

One could be led to believe that her tale is that of an ‘overnight success’ due to her rapid ascent in the professional world. Instead, Otu disagrees with that assessment. Despite being taken aback by the shareholders’ choice to appoint her as director, she made it clear that her commitment to providing exceptional service remained unwavering to establish BetWinner as the leading sports betting brand. While Otu refrained from divulging her growth strategy, she is confident in the course she is charting for the company’s growth.

“We’re not looking at going retail for now. We want to first understand and gain that online audience, and then maybe we can look at retail in the future, but for now, it is online,” added Otu. “Our goal is to ensure we continue improving technology and innovation to suit that target audience and to ensure we continue meeting the needs of people in the online space. That is my major goal. And that’s the strategy to just focus on the technological aspects of it.”

Despite a growing interest in female bettors globally, the global sports betting industry has more men in critical roles such as operation, compliance and corporate. This pattern is also apparent in Nigeria. Slowly but surely, the narrative has begun to shift with Otu, who perceives her position in the industry as a portal to opportunities for other women.

Highly experienced and well-travelled, Otu leads with a ‘bigger picture’ mentality, which she has instilled into the company’s culture, fostering the development of every employee.

“It’s a male-dominated industry, and the truth about it is, even when, let’s say there’s an operations role or anything like that, it’s men that will be considered for that role, maybe because over the years, the industry has been male-dominated and success has been seen from men majorly,” – she stressed.

“As someone privileged to be in this position, I also want to give people that opportunity as well. And BetWinner as a company, and a global brand as well, does not see gender when it comes to roles because most people I work with from other countries as well are women. Those are people involved in operations as well. We are very diverse and inclusive when it comes to gender. When it comes to roles, we are very inclusive. Women are involved in operations as well, not just mere positions.” – Otu continued.

Though the Akwa Ibom native has a firm grip on BetWinner, ensuring the effective management of its day-to-day running, she expressed concerns over the taxation system that has the state and federal governments at loggerheads.

“It is not easy for companies to keep up, especially companies that are just starting, ” – she lamented.

Otu proposed a unified taxation system that would serve as an enabler and sustainer of growth within the industry.

Additionally, she expressed her opinion regarding the federal government’s speculated decision to grant licences to international online companies to operate within the industry with no physical presence, thinking “they are just seeing the ‘now’ of the whole situation because those people will pay for licences and all of that, just the money that comes in at the time. But the long-term goal wouldn’t be beneficial to Nigeria.”

“If BetWinner didn’t come into operation in Nigeria, I wouldn’t be sitting down here. It doesn’t give that room and opportunity for Nigerians to get jobs and local content promotion. And for those companies over there, they wouldn’t be able to finetune their products to suit the market here because they are not here, and they can’t fully understand the market like people who are actually in the industry, on the ground. So, I hope the federal government rethinks it.” – she added.

While on tour around the facility, a certain picture paints the work culture at BetWinner: It comprises young, vibrant individuals like Otu. Each person is tech savvy and manoeuvring their way around the internet to field customers’ and agents’ inquiries in the minimally furnished office that leads directly to Otu’s. But the bulk of the work happens behind the scenes, in a separate space filled with customer care representatives eager to pick up incoming calls and return calls to customers with feedback.

While amassing customers is a plus for the company, Otu, however, hammers the importance of adhering to ethos to avoid attracting the wrong target audience — young people below 18 years.

“We try to partner with them (Gamble Alert) to ensure that people who have this addiction get help and also spread that news out there about gambling addiction so that young people can be aware. Most of the time in the country, because things are hard, it’s not easy for most people, so it just seems like an easy way out. But it is not,” – she cautioned.

At just 27, with Otu at the helm navigating through the tides, BetWinner has exhibited remarkable growth over the past two years through its innovative and inclusive approach to the industry, indicating that the company is well-positioned to maintain its upward trajectory. By embracing diversity and promoting new ideas, Otu projects that BetWinner is poised to become a reference point in the industry for years to come.


About Post Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.