Online betting firms gamble on soccer-mad Nigeria

Online sports betting is booming in soccer-mad Nigeria largely thanks to payment systems developed by homegrown technology firms that are starting to make online businesses more viable.

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For years, mobile payments failed to take off in Nigeria as they have in countries such as Kenya, where Safaricom’s M-Pesa money transfers have fostered a culture of cashless payments.

Fear of electronic fraud and slow internet speeds have held Nigerian online consumers back but betting firms says the new, fast digital payment systems underpinning their websites are changing attitudes towards online transactions.

“We have seen significant growth in the number of payment solutions that are available. All that is definitely changing the gaming space,” said Seun Anibaba, CEO of Lagos State Lotteries Board, gaming regulator in Nigeria’s commercial capital.

“The operators will go with whoever is faster, agen piala dunia whoever can connect to their platform with less issues and glitches,” he said, adding that taxes from sports betting in Lagos State rose 30 percent to 40 percent in 2017 from 2016.

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That growth has been matched by a rise in web payments, according to data from the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System NIBSS, which is owned by the central bank and licensed banks.

In 2016, there were 14 million web payments worth a total 132 billion naira $420 million. Transactions leapt to 29 million worth 185 billion in 2017 and in the first quarter of 2018 there were nearly 10 million worth 61 billion.

With a young population of nearly 190 million, rising mobile phone use and falling data costs, Nigeria has long been seen as a great opportunity for online businesses – once consumers feel comfortable with electronic payments.

Online gambling firms say that is happening, though reaching the tens of millions of Nigerians without access to banking services remains a challenge for pure online retailers.

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British online betting firm Betway opened its first African business in Kenya in 2015, followed by Uganda, Ghana and South Africa. It launched in Nigeria in January.

“There is a gradual shift to online now, that is where the industry is going,” Betway’s Nigeria manager Lere Awokoya said.

“The growth in the number of fintechs, and the government as an enabler, has helped the business to thrive. These technological shifts encouraged Betway to start operating in Nigeria,” he said.

FINTECH COMPETITION

Betting firms cashing in on the soccer frenzy whipped up by Nigeria’s participation in the World Cup say they are finding the payment systems created by local startups such as Paystack are proving popular online.

Paystack and another local startup Flutterwave, both founded in 2016, are providing competition for Nigeria’s Interswitch which was set up in 2002 and was the main platform used by businesses operating in Nigeria.

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