Govt Needs To Review, Enforce Pools Edict

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Major Sammy Ogunyebo (retd), President, Lagos State Pools Agents Association, LASPAA  speaks on the problems facing the pools industry and how the Lagos State government can  help rejuvenate it

What’s happening to pools business in Lagos State?
The problems facing pool in Lagos State was actually caused by government and the pools  promoters. This is because the laws that guide the business were enacted at the  parliament in 1980, 1986 and 1995, but they are not being obeyed and government is doing  nothing about implementing it. There has been no proper monitoring and so the promoters  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 time  for radicals to take over the mantle of leadership in the pools industry. That was how I  became the President of LASPAA.

What does LASPAA really do?
LASPAA’s duty is to take care of the pools agents. The pools agents are those that are  operating pools betting shops. Ours is to take care of their welfare, fight for their  rights, collect what belongs to them from government and advise them on how to deal with  promoters.

Pools business seems to have gone down, unlike the days when face-to-face was still very  visible. Is pools business still viable?
Pools business would have still been viable if the rules and regulations were being  implemented. If these rules and regulations are enforced in Lagos State, pools is a very  lucrative business.  In those days, when we started pools, there was nothing like rebate  or commission to stakers. The promoters then were Lebanese and Koreans and they followed  the rules and regulations. But after the indigenization decree which empowered indigenes  to promote pools, Nigerian promoters started circumventing the law by introducing  abnormal commission to stakers, and this commission is supposed to be the salary of the  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 LASPAA  were not interested in fighting for the rights of members, things have gone wrong to the  extent that there was a time lottery and pools betting law were in the same bye-laws.  Later, they removed lottery and called it lotto. Lotto has now taken over the business of  pools in the sense that lotto itself has 90 numbers. Out of these 90 numbers, only five  would be produced as draws. That’s five over 90, you can imagine the ratio and you would  see that people hardly win this lotto, yet people are rushing to play it in the sense  that the payment on the winning is very high, which is why some think lotto is better  than pool.

What about polls?
In pools we have just 49 numbers that we play very week. Out of the 49 numbers, there are  times we have ten, eleven, twelve or fifteen draws. That is 15 numbers that will enable  stakers to win compared with where we have five over 90. So you can see the difference;  but stakers, being ignorant, think that because of the high odd being paid on lotto, it  is much better than pools. Because the government is making a lot of money from it, they  have concentrate only on lotto.
We have majority of people in the pools business, that is, we have promoters, agents and  stakers. Licenced promoters in Lagos State are 32. The state government should not have  allowed mushroom promoters to promote pools because majority of these unlicensed  promoters have no experience of pools promotion. They think that being a competitive  business, they would make more money by cutting corners but we made government to  understand that if promoters are reduced drastically, let’s assume we have only 10  promoters in Lagos State, the rules and regulations would be strictly followed because  competition would be reduced and only financially capable promoters would emerge. Right  now, majority of them are bankrupt. Some of them, when stakers win heavily, they would be  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 make  money through the agents and the promoters. Right now in Lagos State, we have about  25,000 pools betting shops and if they all pay their taxes and renewal of annual license  regularly, that is N2,500 for tax and another N2,500 for license in addition to N500 for  identity card, government would be making a lot of revenue. Also, if the promoters are  reduced drastically, then we will have to review the payment of their annual licence and  their taxes. Both would be upwardly reviewed. They are paying so little now because the  government does not know the intricacies in the pools business. This new regime that I  head in LASPAA today has enlightened the government of Lagos State, including Governor  Babatunde Fashola himself.
A lot of our people are ready to pay, but they don’t have the money, so the state  government is losing a lot of revenue on pools business. For me, I have other things to  sustain me, that is why I am still able to pay my taxes and licence fees annually but  thousands of others are unable to pay.
The pools forecast newspapers are making more money than the pools agents because every  year, they increase the price of their publication and we have no choice but to buy  because stakers would come and ask for them. The only way out is if the Lagos State  government can intervene by reviewing the laws guiding pools business and formulate  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 dissidents  are the promoters’ tools. The association is not divided, only that some of our members  are not obeying the laws that guide our operations and we attribute this to the poverty  in this country. Majority of them rely solely on the promoters for sustenance and the  promoters just order them to do whatever they want and they do it. Independent agents,  like me, cannot be ordered around. If your business is not okay for me, I go to other  promoters. But others cannot act on their own because they rely solely on those  promoters. They do what they want because they feel they are the owners of their  business. We are now telling the government of Lagos State to remove the hands of the  promoters from betting shops.

Don’t you think some of these promoters have the backing of some government officials?
If the government officials are sincere, there’s a lot they should be doing about  regulating the business. That is why government have gazettes and edicts and these should  be regularly reviewed and updated so that unscrupulous promoters would not take advantage  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 though  they are not members of LASPAA, they are functioning as agents. Promoters are not  supposed to operate as agents but they are doing so by renting shops and converting them  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 seem  more interested in the business because hitherto, they did not know what was happening in  the pools business. But we have been able to convince them that they are losing a lot of  revenue because they don’t understand the business. If the government can come out with a  policy to support the gazettes, then, sanitization would come into the business. Stakers,  would get their money as and when due, agents would get their commission and promoters  would have enough money to pay. It is the commission that promoters are giving directly  to stakers that is the problem because in the first place promoters are not supposed to  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 pools  business as this will bring the sanity we’ve been looking for. All stakeholders would be  happier because stakers, agents and promoters would all know their places while  government would make its own money. We already have good rapport with the state  government and we’ve been holding series of meetings with them to find the way forward.