State Gaming/Lotto Regulators Canvass for Unity of Processes and Licensing

In the wake of the recent antagonism and interference on the activities of State Gaming Regulators by agents of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), the Association of State Gaming Regulators in Nigeria (ASGRN) has come out with a position statement on the constant impasse with the NLRC.

Rising from its recent emergency meeting held in Lagos, the body, which comprises of representatives from States currently regulating all – gaming activities, has come out to condemn in strong terms the lingering issues of rights to regulate the gaming industry between States and the Federal Government agency and other sundry issues.

Jointly speaking after the meeting of State regulators, the chairman of Enugu State Gaming/Lotto Commission, Mr Harrison Ogara (JP) and the Head, Pools and Betting Division of the Ogun State Internal Revenue Service (OGIRS), Mr. Felix Fagbohun flayed the activities of the officials of NLRC who they said were going from state to state to shut down gaming operators legally licensed by the State Government.

In an instance, the body noted that it is illegal for a National Agency, in the mold of NLRC to claim rights to regulate gaming activities clearly under the residual list in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) adding that such activities are tantamount to eroding the very essence of true federalism.

Explaining further, Mr. Fagbohun enunciated that while some of its members have regulated the industry under gaming laws promulgated as far back as 1981 and 1991, the NLRC only came into existence in 2005″.

Mr. Fagbohun stressed that ASGRN is operating from the constitutional realm adding that “for NLRC to assume the roles it is playing now, the Commission must first seek for an amendment of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, because according to him,“as it is today, gaming regulatory power lies in the states”.

While recounting some of their latest issues with NLRC, Mr. Ogara said “When we noticed the obvious infraction on the provisions of our Statute, the States were taken aback and surprised by this act, since the NLRC itself had reached out to the States to explore a joint approach to regulations, a development that was warmly embraced and supported by a few of the States, though there was initial resistance, as per sincerity of purpose of the National Agency due to past antecedents particularly the handling of VAT, which led to States loss of income. However, following concerted efforts of some of the States a lot of progress had been made, until this unfortunate act by the NLRC.”

Mr. Ogara, emphasized that the authors of the Constitution in their wisdom gave the regulatory role to States because of the peculiar nature of the industry, States and their religious inclinations. “Nigeria is a Federation where the three tiers of government are expected to act independently together. We are also aware that there are cases in Supreme Court seeking for clarification over who has rights to regulate gaming”

While justifying the right of the State to regulate gaming, the body pointed to the recent Bauchi State Government ban on all gaming activities in the State citing several reasons. This singular realisation that gaming/gambling is prohibited in some religion and other factors led to the placement of gaming regulation in the Residual List of the Constitution. As such, States that permit gaming have the inherent constitutional right to regulate gaming.

ASGRN is therefore calling on NLRC to understand that legally, its regulatory power only covers the ambit of the Federal Capital Territory and setting up a viable National Lottery to challenge what is currently available in other countries along the West African Sub-region. “Ghana Lotto for instance is very popular in Nigeria and one would ask why Nigeria cannot float a similar lottery”.

The State regulators also roundly condemned the current news filtering out that the Federal Inland Revenue Service was contemplating the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) on gaming in Nigeria adding that implementing VAT in gaming can have a devastating effect on the economy.

Reacting to the news that the States were making arrangement to float another body charged with the responsibility to issues taxes and license gaming operators Mr. Ogara said: “In fullness of time and after all due diligence and consultations have been concluded, we intend to establish a Joint Gaming Board (JGB) (one of the few positives of the roundtable discussions between the States and NLRC), whose duty will be to harmonize and design a unified tax regime among the regulating states. On the issue of licenses, we shall leave it for the respective State to decide.

The Public is therefore advised to take note.

About Chris Ugwuja, Enugu

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