The history of
lottery in Nigeria
Nigeria is one of the more recent countries to join the global train of legalizing and running national lotteries. There is not a lot known about the historical pieces of evidence of lotteries in Nigeria. However, there are traces that were found within the Egyptian civilization that proves that gambling games had been around in the continent for ages. Ancient Egyptians enjoyed playing dice based gambling games. This interest turned into card-based gambling games around the 15th century. Soon, gambling and lotteries spread across the continent.
In Nigeria, we know that before 1999, pools were predominantly played. These were introduced in the country by Ghanaians. Most of the lotteries during this time were privately run businesses. Although there were various laws such as the casino taxation of 1965, lotteries and pools better laws, and gaming laws, all of them were highly unregulated. Any import of slot machines was banned and the entire gaming industry in Nigeria followed coupon based transactions with its customers. All of this led to a lack of accountability from the business owners. And above all, the then gaming industry was unable to generate sufficient revenue for the nation.
The 20th century brought a wave of change in the gaming and lotteries industry globally. Many countries all over the world were showcasing and reaping the socio-economic benefits of a well- regulated national lottery. Following the examples of these countries, Nigeria made few changes in its lottery laws at the end of the century. After the establishment of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in May 1999, the nation began working on many changes in the legal reforms of the country; one of which was the Casino and Gaming Law of Lagos of 2004. Soon after this, the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) was established in the year 2007. As part of this process, two main steps were taken; the first privatization of the lotteries and the second was the partial lifting of the ban on slot machines.
After the establishment of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission, there were many permits issued to help encourage people to register as lottery operators. Over time, the lottery has gained acceptance in the county opening up the Nigerian lottery market for many investors and international lottery organizations. In the year 2016, Nigerian lottery players spent an average of 154 billion nairas on lotteries and sports betting.
The lottery industry in Nigeria now is a recognized ground for employment opportunities, especially for the youth who register as agents or are employed in lottery organizations. The National Lottery Regulation Commission had projected that the lotteries would generate 45 billion nairas as revenue and that the gaming industry would generate 300 billion nairas annually. Unfortunately, the gaming industry was able to meet this prediction. Today, the NLRC pushes people constantly and reminds them to invest only in the national regulated lottery. This would allow for the generation of revenue for the state while still giving the players an opportunity to win money.
As of today, many organizations have acquired the license to operate lotteries in the state. Two of the lotteries that are more easily known are Western Lotto and Plenty Millions. Western million allows Nigerian players to play some of the international lottos as well. With these new games offered to players in their platform, individuals have the opportunity of winning anywhere between 10 million to 15 million nairas. Western lotto and plenty millions allow people to play online making that makes access to the lottery games, participation and claiming processes easy and efficient.
The Nigerian lottery industry is a relatively young industry and has been going through changes since its official legal launch. Let us take a look at the legalities around the lotteries in Nigerian.
The legalities of the Nigerian Lotteries
The lotteries in Nigeria were legalized in the year 2005 by establishing the National Lottery Act. The National Lottery Act of Nigeria has various functions. Some of its key provisions include – the establishment of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) and its governing board, providing the functions of the commission such as regulating the business and operations of the national lottery in Nigeria, promoting transparency, propriety and integrity in the operation of the national lottery (these points are discussed below in respect to key point for the buyers and lottery operators to know), laying out the clear procedures for the grant of a license and operation details for lottery operators to run business in Nigeria including revisiting this procedure often to review and update as required (recently, there is a conversation happening with regard to change in the taxation policies of the lottery laws at the request of the lottery operators), lay out the duration, restrictions and rules for revocation of the lottery licenses, and last but not the least, application of the revenue generated from the proceeds from the lotteries in the country.
The Nation Lottery Act divides the games in Nigeria into legal and illegal games and clearly defines the aspects of each of these. The legal games include the lottery, on-site casinos, and sports betting and the illegal games constitute of roulette, dice games and chance-based card games. Licensed operators can offer slot machines at their on-site casinos. The Nigerian lottery law allows online sale of lottery tickets. The online lottery games offered by organizations are not limited to local individuals. Anyone who has access to the lottery website as per their country laws can participate in the lottery games. Some of the issues related to the lottery that could be illegal in nature are dealt with in separate acts – For example, money laundering is covered under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
The National Lottery Regulatory Commission
The lotteries in Nigeria is governed and regulated by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC). The function of the NLRC is to manage lottery operations in the country and ensuring that integrity and transparency are maintained by the companies in the lottery industry. The members of the board of NLRC are appointed carefully by the President; who also has the power to remove any member on account on the inability to execute responsibilities. The NLRC constitutes of representatives from the federal ministry of commerce, sports, and finance who help ensure that the decisions made by the leaders of the commission are in alignment with the financial and economic goals of the nation. The NLRC commission is in charge of creating and maintaining a fund where the revenue generated from the lotteries is saved. From this fund, the monies may be allocated towards any government funding projects. The lottery law states that the fund money shall be used for ‘projects for the advancement, upliftment, and promotion of sports development, education, social services, public welfare and relief, and management of natural disasters in Africa.’ Purchasing lottery or contest tickets online
For the buyers to know
Purchasing the tickets: Nigeria allows of the sale of lottery tickets via on-site offices and online websites. Apart from this, the purchase of lottery tickets can also be done via post. But, this is not a popular option used by the players and therefore lottery companies usually do not offer postal transfer of lottery tickets and prize monies as part of their services.
Players can purchase lottery tickets at any of the on-site offices of an authorized retailer or from any online website of an authorized retailer. Tickets are also sold via automatic vending machines by some of the retailers.
The most played game, The National Lotto
The Nigeria Lotto is a national lottery that is played weekly on Saturdays and Wednesdays. The highest value of the jackpot for the lotto drawn on Saturday goes up to 2 million naira which is 17, 242 US dollars and the Wednesday lotto jackpot money goes up to 1 million naira which is 8, 621 US dollars.
Playing the Nigerian lotto is pretty simple. The Nigerian lotto follows a 1/49 structure for the lottery. Players will select six numbers from a range of numbers between 1 and 49. The individual who matches all the six numbers wins the jackpot prize. There is a cash prize distributed for the other tier winners as well. Those who match five numbers will win the second tier prizes followed by the third and fourth tier prizes also offered to those who match four and three of the six lottery winning numbers.
Before the official establishment of the Lottery law in Nigeria, the lotto was played via a sports lottery agent. Games were played at the lottery terminals for 50 nairas per game. This limited the access to the lottery games for many people who were not able to find a lottery agent or simply too far away to travel to a lottery terminal in order to participate. This changed with two things, the first was the official establishment of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission that became a central body of control for the lotteries; and second was the growing advancement in technology. With the introduction of mobile phones, lottery organizations made the decision to offer mobile-based and SMS based lottery participation to help promote lotteries and increase the acceptance of lotteries in the country. This also allowed people to participate from anywhere in the country irrespective of whether they had access to internet connections or not.
Today, many people engage in SMS based participation in the lotto. In order to participate the number to send it is 35777. This is template shared in which the SMS has to be sent to the given number – [draw day Saturday (S) or Wednesday (w)] [space] [first number] [space] [second number] [space] [third number] [space] [fourth number] [space] [fifth number] [space] [sixth number]. For example, in order participate in the national lotto that drew on Saturdays players have to text to the number 35777 – S 1 24 32 16 8 13. Each of these numbers represent the six numbers chosen by the players typed in the order from first to sixth. After this is sent to the number, players will get a confirmation on successful participation in the lotto. In this message, the lotto company will also share the electronic ticket number of the player. It should be noted that this number is important because it is needed in order to claim and withdraw any prizes won. This message should be saved. For each play, i.e. for each time a player participates, it costs 100 nairas (this is around 0.28 USD).
Quick Play – The Nigerian lotto offers players the option to play Quickplay. This means that the players do not have to choose any of the numbers themselves but all the six numbers will be automatically generated for them. This option is also available in SMS based lottery. Players have to send the message S QP to the number 35777 for Saturday lotto and W QP for Wednesday Lotto. The rest of the steps with regard to confirmation and receiving of the electronic ticket number remains the same.
Two popular private lottery companies
The National Lottery Regulatory Commission welcomes many business owners to apply for and receive a license to run the lotteries in Nigeria. This has led to a large-scale movement in the industry where the lotteries are run by private companies that provide access to both national and international lotteries (such as Euro millions, Powerball etc.) to the lottery enthusiasts in Nigeria. Two such companies are Western Lotto and Plenty millions; both online websites that allow players to register and play online. In both these companies, players begin by registering themselves as members – a service fee is charged as a membership fee for this. The websites offer the players a range of international lotteries to choose from. Players choose the game, select their numbers and pay for the tickets. Once this is successfully done, players wait until the day of the draw. A message will be sent to their e-mail address if they have won and the money transferred to their registered account from which they can either choose to withdraw or repeat the process i.e. use the money won to play again.
Age and other eligibility criteria
Individuals must be at least 18 years old in order to participate in the lottery games in Nigeria. The country law does not restrict lottery games to only citizens or residents of Nigeria. Any individual who has access to the lottery games from across the globe is eligible to play. International players should ensure that they are clear about not only the eligibility details but also the process of claiming prizes and transfer of funds, should they win any prizes. Global players who are not playing from Nigeria should also ensure that they meet the age limit criteria according to the lottery laws of their country. It is advised to check-in with an attorney with regard to the lottery laws of both the countries before investing in the lottery tickets. If it is found that a winner of a lottery ticket does not meet the age limit or any other eligibility criteria as laid out by the laws, the claim for the lottery prize will be considered void. Players will not be able to get back the money invested in the purchase of lottery tickets in this case.
Payment for the lottery tickets
The payment options for the lotteries are left at the description of the lottery companies. Each company has its own process for payments. As mentioned in the discussion above, the cost of playing the Nigerian lotto is 100 naira per play. Depending on their mode of play, players have the option of paying by cash – when they purchase lottery tickets directly from authorized retail stores, pay by card – players can pay using debit and credit cards. While playing online, players have even more modes of payments made available for them. This changes from one company to another. Western lotto, for example, allows credit card payments, debit card payments, E-wallet payments, cash payments (Paypoint and Paydirect), ATM deposits and instant money transfers. Members with cards from certain banks in Nigeria also have the option of playing via SMS with USSD. USSD is an option offered by Western lotto that allows players to transfer funds with their mobiles in a simple and effective way. This option is available for players who use Verve eCash, FirstBank, Stanbic Bank, and EcoBank Verve. Payments can be done via a unique user ID that players will get upon registration to the website. Although there may be variations, most companies have similar patterns of payments made available for the lottery tickets.
For Sellers to know
All business owners who wish to operate or run lotteries in Nigeria will have to submit an application to the NLRC to receive the license for lottery operation. Once the application fee is paid, the commission will meticulously review the application to ensure that the applicant meets all the provisions detailed out in the National Lottery Act. This license once issued, this is valid for a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 15 years. The license must be extended at least one year prior to the expiration date.
Business owners of lotteries in Nigeria should note that the lottery law has strict policies on operations and if any provision is not met, the license granted will be revoked by the NLRC. Business owners should also note that no individual in political and federal office is eligible to apply for the license run a lottery business. If all the eligibility criteria are met, then the license will be granted by the commission. Licensed lottery operators can in-turn; with the approval of the commission, appoint any individual or small business to operate and sell lotteries on their behalf. Because of this, it can be noted that there are a lot of young private lottery operators in Nigeria who run lotteries and casinos for the lottery enthusiasts.
All licensed lottery operators are required to set up a separate fund known as the ‘Trust Fund’. In this fund, they are required to transfer 20% of revenue generated from lotteries for the first years of operation. In the subsequent five, this percentage increases to 25% and then finally 27.5% from the 11th year of operations. This money must be transferred within a period of 90 days from the day of the final draw that determines the winner of each lottery.
Syndicates not allowed!
All players should not that forming syndicates of any kind to help increase the odds of winning the lottery is considered to be illegal according to the Nigerian lottery laws. Promoting, forming or assisting in the formation of any kind of syndicate will have legal consequences. If an operator is found guilty of promoting syndicates, there will be a fine charge of 50,000 naira or one-year minimum imprisonment or both. If the guilty entity is a company as opposed to an individual retailer, then the charge for each director and manager still remains at 50,000 nairas with the one-year minimum imprisonment but along with this, the company is charged 250,000 nairas.
Similarly, the lottery act also lays down the consequences of operating the lottery illegally without a license. Some of the activities considered to be engaging in illegal activities within the lottery industry include the sale of forged tickets, altering numbers in a ticket to sell an illegal ticket, and promoting lottery schemes within their company with an intention to defraud the customers. If proven guilty under this offense, a company will be subject to a fine of 100,000 nairas. Each of the directors, managers, and officers of the said company will be subject to individual fines of 20,000 nairas each or imprisonment for one year or both.
For Winners to know
Expiration of the lottery tickets: All lottery prizes must be claimed within a period of 180 days from the final draw that announced the winner. Any prize money that is not claimed within this period of time will go back to the prize pool or ‘prize fund’ of the lottery company and will be used for the prize distribution of the future lotteries. Although no exceptions have been known to be made in this case, the lottery operator does have the authority to choose to hear the reason from the winner for an unclaimed prize and distribute the prize money to them if the company finds the reason to legitimate.
Claiming the prize money
Apart from a few fixed stipulations set by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission, the process of claiming changes from one company to another.
The common regulations include:
- Prize claim can be made with the organizations within 180 days from the day the final draw that announced the winner is done.
- Once the claim is made, the money must be transferred to the winners within a period of 90 days.
- Any prize money that does not get claimed within the 180 day period will be considered to be unclaimed money.
- Claims are made directly at the banks approved by the regulation of the National Lottery Regulation Commission.
All the companies in Nigeria are regulated by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission. Western lotto is one of the most used lottery websites. The claiming process shared on their website is explained below. Most companies will have a similar process. It is suggested that winners check-in with their lottery companies in order to confirm the process.
In Western lotto, small prizes are directly transferred to the registered e-mail address of the player. The minimum withdrawal allowed in Western lotto is 1000 naira. This withdrawal can be made at any time. In order to withdraw, players must first long into their Western Lotto account, go to the ‘My Account’ section. This will open up a drop-down menu. From this list, they must select the ‘Withdraw’ option. This will lead to a form that must be filled that has the details of the withdrawal and the bank account details to where the money must be transferred. Players will then proceed to review and confirm the details of the form. All small withdrawals will be done within 48 hours.
During submission of the withdrawal request, the website will ask players to confirm their e-mail address before making the withdrawal. After the request for withdrawal of funds is made, the details of the players are manually verified and approved by Western Lotto and the Interswitch Group (one the company’s regulators). Once the registered account is verified with the registered e-mail address, the money is transferred to the player’s bank account. This entire process will be completed and the amount transferred to the player’s bank account within seven days of the fund’s withdrawal request. After the money is transferred, players will receive a confirmation e-mail stating the prize money has been sent.
This withdrawal is allowed only for prize monies that have been won by the player in the past. It does not apply to any bonus or offers that may have been offered by the company to encourage players to participate.
Online Nigerian scams have come to people’s attention more and more in the past few years. Some of the most common of these scams are the lottery scams and the ‘need help’ scams. In the ‘need help’ scams, individuals get in touch with people via social media requesting for help because they are in a dire situation. They explain that they or their family is in a financial crisis and a few dollars could help them. These are usually found in the spam inbox. Another spam e-mail scam is when people get in touch with a business idea and are looking for ‘investors’ and promise a large return on investment. And finally the lottery scams. Here, people get in touch with someone via social media or an SMS stating that they have been randomly chosen and have won a large sum of money. The scammer then requests for transfer of funds to help send this ‘large sum of money’ to the winner. In all these cases, of course, the money is never seen again.
The lottery law of Nigeria does not mention any specifications with regard to sharing details of the winners of jackpot prizes. This is left at the discretion of the lottery companies operating in the nation. Each company may have a separate set of rules. Therefore, it is suggested that the winners get in touch with the lottery company or visit the company’s official website for this information.
The winners of lottery prizes and jackpots do not have to pay taxes on their lottery in Nigeria. However, there is a small twist to this. Although, there is no tax charged at the time of the claim and companies do not ‘hold back’ any portion of the winner’s money; the winner still has to report the prize as an income according to the Income Tax Act of Nigeria. All prize monies are by law required to be shown under ‘Other Income’. Therefore, winners will eventually end up paying tax on their prize money. Thus, winners should ensure and double-check if any money is retained by lottery organizations for tax purposes to avoid double taxation.
Another issue that exists is the treatment of VAT on the prizes. This is an issue that the operators deal with. In the case of cash payments, there is no separate VAT charged. This is because this money would be added and adjusted with the ticket costs, service costs etc. However, in the case of prize-in-kind, there is usually not ticket purchased and the VAT is incurred by the operators or promoters. Operators will not be able to capitalize this. Apart from this, operators also have separate taxes that they pay as businesses. Lottery and sports betting operators have been requesting the NLRC to consider bring about changes in the tax policies of the lotteries. The suggested change may result in a required fixed percentage deducted from both cash prize and prize-in-kind.
If the acceptance of the lotteries increases at a steady pace as it has since its establishment; the Nigerian lotteries and the gaming industry will grow to become one of the largest contributors to the economic growth of the nation. With increasing investments coming in from local and foreign investors, there is much to look forward to in the near future of the Nigerian lottery industry.