13th October, 2010
Major Sammy Ogunyebo (retd), President, Lagos State Pools Agents Association, LASPAAÂ speaks on the problems facing the pools industry and how the Lagos State government canÂ help rejuvenate it
Whatâ€™s happening to pools business in Lagos State?
The problems facing pool in Lagos State was actually caused by government and the poolsÂ promoters. This is because the laws that guide the business were enacted at theÂ parliament in 1980, 1986 and 1995, but they are not being obeyed and government is doingÂ nothing about implementing it. There has been no proper monitoring and so the promotersÂ took advantage of this to bastardize the industry..
All this has been happening for more than 30 years and we now decided that it is the timeÂ for radicals to take over the mantle of leadership in the pools industry. That was how IÂ became the President of LASPAA.
What does LASPAA really do?
LASPAAâ€™s duty is to take care of the pools agents. The pools agents are those that areÂ operating pools betting shops. Ours is to take care of their welfare, fight for theirÂ rights, collect what belongs to them from government and advise them on how to deal withÂ promoters.
Pools business seems to have gone down, unlike the days when face-to-face was still veryÂ visible. Is pools business still viable?
Pools business would have still been viable if the rules and regulations were beingÂ implemented. If these rules and regulations are enforced in Lagos State, pools is a veryÂ lucrative business.Â In those days, when we started pools, there was nothing like rebateÂ or commission to stakers. The promoters then were Lebanese and Koreans and they followedÂ the rules and regulations. But after the indigenization decree which empowered indigenesÂ to promote pools, Nigerian promoters started circumventing the law by introducingÂ abnormal commission to stakers, and this commission is supposed to be the salary of theÂ agents because agents have no salaries, no pension and no gratuity.
It is only the commission that they rely upon for survival. Since past leaders of LASPAAÂ were not interested in fighting for the rights of members, things have gone wrong to theÂ extent that there was a time lottery and pools betting law were in the same bye-laws.Â Later, they removed lottery and called it lotto. Lotto has now taken over the business ofÂ pools in the sense that lotto itself has 90 numbers. Out of these 90 numbers, only fiveÂ would be produced as draws. Thatâ€™s five over 90, you can imagine the ratio and you wouldÂ see that people hardly win this lotto, yet people are rushing to play it in the senseÂ that the payment on the winning is very high, which is why some think lotto is betterÂ than pool.
What about polls?
In pools we have just 49 numbers that we play very week. Out of the 49 numbers, there areÂ times we have ten, eleven, twelve or fifteen draws. That is 15 numbers that will enableÂ stakers to win compared with where we have five over 90. So you can see the difference;Â but stakers, being ignorant, think that because of the high odd being paid on lotto, itÂ is much better than pools. Because the government is making a lot of money from it, theyÂ have concentrate only on lotto.
We have majority of people in the pools business, that is, we have promoters, agents andÂ stakers. Licenced promoters in Lagos State are 32. The state government should not haveÂ allowed mushroom promoters to promote pools because majority of these unlicensedÂ promoters have no experience of pools promotion. They think that being a competitiveÂ business, they would make more money by cutting corners but we made government toÂ understand that if promoters are reduced drastically, letâ€™s assume we have only 10Â promoters in Lagos State, the rules and regulations would be strictly followed becauseÂ competition would be reduced and only financially capable promoters would emerge. RightÂ now, majority of them are bankrupt. Some of them, when stakers win heavily, they would beÂ unable to pay and start running helter skelter to borrow money to pay the winnings.
We told the government that it can make a lot of money from pools. Government will makeÂ money through the agents and the promoters. Right now in Lagos State, we have aboutÂ 25,000 pools betting shops and if they all pay their taxes and renewal of annual licenseÂ regularly, that is N2,500 for tax and another N2,500 for license in addition to N500 forÂ identity card, government would be making a lot of revenue. Also, if the promoters areÂ reduced drastically, then we will have to review the payment of their annual licence andÂ their taxes. Both would be upwardly reviewed. They are paying so little now because theÂ government does not know the intricacies in the pools business. This new regime that IÂ head in LASPAA today has enlightened the government of Lagos State, including GovernorÂ Babatunde Fashola himself.
A lot of our people are ready to pay, but they donâ€™t have the money, so the stateÂ government is losing a lot of revenue on pools business. For me, I have other things toÂ sustain me, that is why I am still able to pay my taxes and licence fees annually butÂ thousands of others are unable to pay.
The pools forecast newspapers are making more money than the pools agents because everyÂ year, they increase the price of their publication and we have no choice but to buyÂ because stakers would come and ask for them. The only way out is if the Lagos StateÂ government can intervene by reviewing the laws guiding pools business and formulateÂ policies to make stakeholders happy.
Is LASPAA factionalised or is it another group making the business difficult?
LASPAA is not factionalised but we have dissidents in the association. Those dissidentsÂ are the promotersâ€™ tools. The association is not divided, only that some of our membersÂ are not obeying the laws that guide our operations and we attribute this to the povertyÂ in this country. Majority of them rely solely on the promoters for sustenance and theÂ promoters just order them to do whatever they want and they do it. Independent agents,Â like me, cannot be ordered around. If your business is not okay for me, I go to otherÂ promoters. But others cannot act on their own because they rely solely on thoseÂ promoters. They do what they want because they feel they are the owners of theirÂ business. We are now telling the government of Lagos State to remove the hands of theÂ promoters from betting shops.
Donâ€™t you think some of these promoters have the backing of some government officials?
If the government officials are sincere, thereâ€™s a lot they should be doing aboutÂ regulating the business. That is why government have gazettes and edicts and these shouldÂ be regularly reviewed and updated so that unscrupulous promoters would not take advantageÂ of any lapses. The gazettes have never been reviewed.
Can we then say these promoters are breaking the law?
Yes, indeed, they are breaking the law of Lagos State and LASPAA in the sense that thoughÂ they are not members of LASPAA, they are functioning as agents. Promoters are notÂ supposed to operate as agents but they are doing so by renting shops and converting themÂ to pools betting shops.
How is LASPAA tackling this problem?
By the grace of God, with the rapport we have with the Lagos State government, they seemÂ more interested in the business because hitherto, they did not know what was happening inÂ the pools business. But we have been able to convince them that they are losing a lot ofÂ revenue because they donâ€™t understand the business. If the government can come out with aÂ policy to support the gazettes, then, sanitization would come into the business. Stakers,Â would get their money as and when due, agents would get their commission and promotersÂ would have enough money to pay. It is the commission that promoters are giving directlyÂ to stakers that is the problem because in the first place promoters are not supposed toÂ run betting shops.
Now, what does the association want the Lagos State government do for it?
We want the Lagos State government to review all gazettes and edicts that concern poolsÂ business as this will bring the sanity weâ€™ve been looking for. All stakeholders would beÂ happier because stakers, agents and promoters would all know their places whileÂ government would make its own money. We already have good rapport with the stateÂ government and weâ€™ve been holding series of meetings with them to find the way forward.