Established in 2013, Bet9ja, one of the leading sport betting operators in has grown to become the widest spread bookmaker in the country. Operating with a National Lottery License from the National Lotteries Regulatory Commission, and various state licenses from each area of operations, the gaming platform has its foothold in all states of the federation. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, the Managing Director of the company Ayo Ojuroye spoke on the sport gaming sector in Nigeria, Bet9ja’s sponsorship of Big Brother Naija and how it plans to empower young Nigerians through More Than A Bet campaign.
Sport betting has become a thriving venture in Nigeria, what’s responsible for that?
There are three key things responsible for that. First is the large population; we are over 200 million people and still counting. Secondly, the increase in sporting culture in Nigeria is also a major factor. The English Premiere League, Italian, Spanish and other leagues across the world are fast gaining attention in Nigeria, which is making our gaming industry grow. Finally, there’s increase in Internet penetration in the country. As one of the world’s fastest growing markets for mobile phones, the widespread use of mobile phones in Nigeria has been a positive game changer for the sports betting business. So, every day, it gets easier to pay, play and win.
What makes Bet9ja different from other betting -platforms?
Well, the Bet9ja brand has become a staple in Nigerian sports entertainment; we are the leading gaming company in Nigeria. If you go on alexa (world ranking platform), we rank number two as the most visited site in Nigeria after Google; that tells you the number of visits on our site and level of customers we service over time. Like you know, we are broken into two phases; we have the online platform and the retail channels. Both platforms account for what the organisation has turned out today.
How have you been dealing with competition in the sector?
Our wealth of experience and understanding of the industry, products and marketplace is what makes us stand out from the rest; we remain a market leader over the years. From our live sports offerings to the online casino, virtual football and racing (Virtual Dog and Horse Racing), we offer the most exciting and rewarding experiences to our customers with the best odds, best bonus and fast payout of winnings.
Beyond people playing and winning, are there benefits for Nigeria as a country?
As you know, there are really no opportunities for young people out there. So, we serve as one of the platforms that help these youths by engaging them in something positive while they make money to start up something for themselves. However, this is not for just everybody; you must be 18 years and above to play. The high level of unemployment in the country has resulted in rapid engagement on our platforms. Of course, we have reach in all Nigerian states; we have the statistics.
Sport betting is a phenomenon in the world; it has some level of economic value to the government. If you look at other countries where it thrives, it serves as a major revenue generation for the government. No doubt, international success stories of betting contributions to national economic growth, is huge. In fact, The 2012 London Olympics Games was solely financed with revenue from lotteries (nairametrics.com). So, that’s what we are about as well here in Nigeria; we generate a lot of economic value for the country.
You spoke about job creation, how much have you done in that regard?
Job opportunities in lottery and sports betting are limitless and the revenue can help sustain the economy of the country. There are induced impacts on the economy that arise as employees/beneficiaries of the industry spend their wages in the broader economy such as payment of rent, transportation, food and beverage, and entertainment. I can tell you that we’ve started up a lot of businesses for people in this country; we pay out almost immediately once you win. These guys go out there to set up businesses and employ other people. So, there’s that viral effect on what we do.
Our agent network is such that we have also created more employment. Directly and indirectly, we have over 40,000 people employed via the Bet9ja brand across the country. As much as it might look like we are focusing on young people, what we’ve done is that we are taking people off the street, which has made a lot of difference in their lives; they’ve been able to set up their own business and also employed other people.
What’s the aim of Bet9ja and how have you managed to sustain the business so far?
We aim to provide our customers with a fun experience whenever and however they choose to be with us. The most critical asset for us as a company is integrity and commitment to ensuring we provide the best service.
Just as integrity and commitment are our most critical assets, that is how we take our corporate governance extremely serious as a business. Our code of business principles represents the standard of conduct of all our employees and agents. We are subject to the Nigerian government’s rules and regulations regarding the effective running and regulations of the betting industry. So, we constantly keep our corporate governance arrangements under reviews. We pay all taxes and levies due to the government and its regulatory agencies/bodies as part of our commitment to ensure compliance. Again, we conduct our operations in accordance with internationally accepted principles of good governance – especially in Nigeria where we operate.
What’s your relationship with the EFCC?
To ensure the credibility of our processes, we fill all our transactions to EFCC for proper auditing and verification. Our platform is not used for money laundering because EFCC audits all our transactions through the returns we file in. besides, in line with our commitment to operate with integrity, we partnered EFCC on the maiden edition of anti-corruption marathon in Abuja. So, we have a good relationship with the agency.
Are there new innovations you have brought into the market?
Well, innovation is a key to success in our industry. As an organisation, we are continuously seeking opportunities to give our customers and citizens more value to earn on our platform. The outcome of one of these was the introduction of a state-of-the-art virtual dog race into the market and it became an instant success. The dog-race became a success as a result of three deliberate actions by the developers: The idea of instant outcome. What that means is that, even when the football season is over, people still play on our platform.
What informed your decision to sponsor Big Brother Naija this year?
Our sponsorship of Big Brother Naija is to enhance and make participants achieve their dreams of becoming valuable players in the Nigeria entertainment industry. We will support housemate to engage in corporate social responsibility through donations to orphanages. Our support will influence the winning prizes and help boost the entertainment industry.
Most importantly, we intend to use the Big Brother platform is to amplify our More Than A Bet campaign of how we are changing lives. A lot of people don’t really have a good understanding of what we do as a business; they call it gambling. However, the impact of spot betting is huge. Through the More Than A Bet campaign, we plan to show how we’ve been empowering Nigerians, especially the youth. I don’t want to say much about this, once the show starts, you will be seeing clips on how we’ve touched lives through betting.
There are still misconceptions about betting in this part of the world, what are you doing to clear that?
People fear what they don’t understand. For example, back then, if you do anything to your hair as a guy, you are seen as a horrible human being, juts for your hair. All of a sudden, our pastors started making their hairs and it’s fine. If you smoke, you are seen as a terrible person. Today, you see people smoking you just walk pass. Sport betting is the same; we are seen as taking money from people and making them lose. I play betting; I win, I lose. I can tell you for a fact, people quit their jobs to play on Bet9ja. People see the platform as an alternative source of income; these are fact. That’s why we are moving on to our More Than A Bet campaign; we are more than a sport betting company, we give people opportunity to change their lives. As we speak, people are wining millions, buy you don’t hear about it; we also try to protect their identity for security reasons.
The question now is, how do we start to change ideology? You can’t change an ideology is a year or two; it takes time. What we want to do now with Big Brother is to say, it is more than a bet. We will start to amplify these stories and we need your partnership do achieve this; we can’t do it on our own. There’s been bad press on sport betting; companies don’t want to work with us because of religious belief. We all have the chance to change the perception and change the ideology of our people. Look at lottery abroad; when you buy something and you have change, you just pick up a lottery ticket. It’s nothing; there’s no stigma. But here, ‘lottery, don’t touch it.’ So, we need to change this narrative so that we begin to get the full benefit of sport betting in Nigeria.
Have you been involved in any form of CSR as an organisation?
As an organisation, we’ve been involved a lot of CSR projects in the communities where we operate. We’ve been supporting IDP camps, providing them with items. We’ve supported an IDP camp in Bauchi State and we will do more as a business. We have provided safety training and equipment for transporters – motorcycle and tricycles riders in different parts of the country as part of our efforts to contribute to the reduction of incidences of accidents.
In the area of sports, we are the sole sponsors of Nigeria League. Particularly, we have supported women in sports at different levels. We are the sole sponsors of Seyi Akinwunmi charity tournament in Ogun State and we support Ogun State Under 20 cup. In the area of culture and tourism, we are part of the Olojo festival in Osun State and we intend to do more through the More Than A Bet campaign.