The history of gambling in Nigeria

Legalized gambling is a relatively new pastime for people living in Nigeria, and although there are few physical casinos in the country, there is plenty of choice when it comes to online casinos.

With such a rich history both politically and culturally, the legalization of gambling in Nigeria is something that was unexpected – but necessary, as the links to organized crime that abounded before the late ‘90s was a real problem.

A Brief History of Nigeria

Officially known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria, this country in West Africa is the most populous country on the continent with a population of more than 230 million. The capital is Abuja, but the biggest (and most well-known, especially for tourists) is Lagos.

Nigeria was colonized by the British in the 19th Century, and they brought with them their customs, traditions, and their religion. This multinational state might consist of 250 distinct ethnic groups, speaking 500 languages – but the official language is English.

There are many religions in Nigeria, but the main two are Muslim, and thanks to the colonizers, Christian – splitting the state effectively in half.

Nigeria became a formally independent federation in 1960, and since then has been working hard to govern itself, despite civil wars and general unrest.

The official start of the legalized gambling industry in Nigeria came from the National Lottery Act 2005.

This was the act that legalized what were known as ‘games of skill’ (as opposed to games of chance), and named pastimes like casino games, gaming machines, and lotteries. The language here is a little misleading, as anyone who has played on slot machines will know that there isn’t much ‘skill’ in playing and it is more about chance.

Despite the name, there was no state-owned national lottery until 2022, with the launch of the Nigeria National Game. All other lotteries were managed and operated by gambling companies.

What about 1990?

Some people claim that the legalization of gambling came from the 1990 Criminal Code of Nigeria, which in fact made both backgammon and poker exempt from the gambling ban – but at this time, there was no legal framework to support licensed operations, and things like taxation had not been established.

What Does Gambling Look Like in Nigeria?

There are only 23 licensed gambling companies in Nigeria, and the most popular form of gambling is sports betting – particularly on soccer. Nigeria represents a huge swathe of soccer fans, especially teams in the English Premier League.

More than 50% of the huge population of Nigeria take part in some form of gambling, whether that is betting on the outcome of a soccer game or taking their chances on a lottery game.

The physical casinos are definitely not as popular in Nigeria, however. While betting shops might have slot machines inside, they are primarily locations for placing sports bets – for those who do not have access to online casinos.

In fact, there are only a handful of brick-and-mortar casinos in the 356,669 square miles of territory that the Federal Republic of Nigeria covers, and they are tied into tourist destinations and resort complexes, like the Federal Palace Hotel and Casino in Lagos, which is the largest in the country.

What Does the Future of Gambling in Nigeria Look Like?

Despite the religious anti-gambling rhetoric prevalent in both Muslim and Christian communities, gabling continues to be a growth market in Nigeria. Whether this demonstrates a step away from the hard-line considerations of religions, especially for younger people, or a softening of the religious ‘rules’ in a modernising country remains to be seen – but the developments continue to come.

There are many reasons why gambling is growing in popularity in Nigeria.


Internet penetration is an important factor in the growth of gambling in Nigeria. According to Statista, the percentage of the population using the internet grew from 28.75% in 2018 to 38.73% in 2022, and it is expected to reach 48.11% by 2027.

While this is somewhat below the penetration rates globally (around 64.6%), the access to the internet is how players are able to get online with one of the 23 licensed casino operators in Nigeria.

Mobile Technology

Out of the almost 39% of internet users in Nigeria in 2022, 37.34% got online using a smartphone. Casino operators know that if they want to gather new users, they need to provide excellent smartphone apps – and with the development of modern mobile technology, this is easier than ever.

Now, players can get all the functionality of online casinos with the convenience of a smartphone.


The most important reason for the growth of gambling in Nigeria is the acceptance of it as a pastime or hobby. Not only have the religious groups seemingly relaxed their anti-gambling stance, but the government is able to make money through taxation – making it a viable (if controversial) source of income.


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