The clash between betting and gambling firms owned by a Peoples Democratic Party chieftain, Senator Buruji Kashamu; and billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Sir Kensington Adebutu, has got messier.
While Adebutu owns Premier Lotto, Western Lotto belongs to Kashamu.
The battle between the companies over the rights to a Ghana-based game, leading to a N500bn suit, is now being resolved by the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives had begun its intervention in the crisis on Tuesday. Its Committee on Inter-Governmental Affairs had met with stakeholders in the industry in Abuja, asking that a new date be fixed, pending the time the panel studied the submissions made to it.
Our correspondent obtained some of the presentations to the committee.
At the hearing were the National Lottery Regulatory Commission and Nigerian Licensed Lottery Operators’ Forum, as well as various lottery firms. Premier Lotto was represented by Ajibola Adebutu and Adebisi Adebutu, while Western Lotto was represented by its Chief Operating Officer, Usman Tajudeen; and Managing Director, Olumide Adedeji.
The House had, on March 18, resolved to intervene in the crisis.
The resolution to settle the rift was based on a motion moved by a member of the House, Akin Alabi, who equally owns a sports betting company, NairaBet, and is, incidentally, chairman of the committee.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had gone after Premier Lotto, based on a petition by Western Lotto, alleging crimes ranging from tax fraud to economic sabotage. The Kashamu-owned company had also petitioned the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
Western Lotto had also dragged the NLRC and 24 lottery operators, including Premier Lotto, before a Federal High Court over alleged infringement of its intellectual property rights to a gaming product known as ‘Ghana Games.’
In his submission earlier, Chairman of the NLLOF, Chima Onwuka, stated that “the problem is not between Western Lotto and Premier Lotto; it is a problem between Western Lotto and Nigerian lottery operators.”
He also lamented that the forum had been allegedly excluded from a negotiation between the NLRC and Western Lotto, despite the latter taking all of them to court.
The operators, in their written presentations, noted that the National Lottery Authority Ghana and its agent, Association of Lotto Marketing Companies, make no contribution to the development of lottery in Nigeria and have no stake in the process of lottery management and business in the country.
The NLLOF said, “The Ghana Games numbers are considered free-to-air as the numbers are freely available and used by many countries along the West African coast. No effort or value of any kind has been introduced by Western Lotto to the lottery process to warrant making him a beneficiary or recipient of royalty payment.
“In view of the fact that NLRC and NLA, Ghana were previously in discussions, which broke down due to computation of each party’s entitlements, it is unpatriotic and immoral for an operator to seek to circumvent the regulator for self- serving purposes.
“The only neutral arbiter in any industry is the regulator and lottery operators oppose the use of a consultant, which will effectively be duplication of functions of the NLRC and unnecessary expenses to the government.”
According to it, the matter of remittance (or not) of royalty to Ghana is uncomplicated and devoid of technicalities that warrant the appointment of a consultant that will “merely serve as a smokescreen for perpetuating shady deals.”
The operators stated that it was aware that Western Lotto had allegedly made no remittance to NLRC or the National Lottery Trust Fund from inception of its business to date, “in clear violation of the provisions of the Lotteries Act.”
The forum also said it would be a collective affront to other compliant lottery operators that had been performing obligations under the Act if the NLRC entered into an exclusive agreement with Western Lotto to the detriment of other operators.
It said, “In law, it is said that ‘he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.’ Western Lotto has demonstrated bad faith in its dealing with LMC Ghana and seeking exclusivity without notifying NLRC, who could have provided guidance in the matter, is not only underhanded but demeaning to Nigeria’s sovereignty.
“In conclusion, Western Lotto has gained public repute as the operator that fails to pay winnings as due, which adversely affects the fragile reputation of the lottery industry.
“Should such an operator be empowered to dictate the offerings in the industry? Should such an operator be seen at the negotiation table with the regulator? Should operators deduce that NLRC, its governing board and supervising ministry are compromised, given the facts on the ground?”
The NLLOF noted that, as integral stakeholders in the industry, it would not stand by while the collective right was abused and regulatory functions were “usurped by an entity that has made no contribution to the development of lottery in Nigeria.”
It added, “It is our prayer that this committee and, by extension, the House prevent the execution of the proposed terms of the settlement. The input of lottery operators as stakeholders and defendants in the matter should be sought and directed towards resolution of this matter.”
However, Western Lotto, in the written submission by its representatives, prayed the House to direct the EFCC to go after lottery operators allegedly short-changing the Federal Government of its due revenue.
The prayers read, “The committee should summon us (Western Lotto) and Premier Lotto, Golden Chance, Bet9ja, all other lottery operators, the EFCC – who has been investigating (the matter), the NLRC, NLTF and other stakeholders to a public hearing on the floor of the House, where all the issues will be laid bare and all the illegalities that have been going on for years will be exposed.
“Bet9ja, Premier Lotto and Golden Chance have been found culpable and have started refunding huge sums of money that were diverted back to the EFCC.
“This will enable both the government and the public to be aware of the monies they have acknowledged as being owed the government and have started refunding, as we believe that they are suppressing the actual figures which should be in the range of N200bn revenue accruable to the government.”
Western Lotto added, “Premier Lotto and Bet9ja are the racket leaders. The committee should authorise the EFFC to arrest all the culpable operators based on the evidence presented immediately after the public hearing on the floor of the House in order to commence the process of recovery of the stolen funds and other assets thereon.
“The committee and the House should support the EFCC to continue in its efforts to expose the racket, large-scale fraud and economic sabotage in the gaming industry, recover all the proceeds of crime and illegality, and bring to book all the perpetrators of this fraud against the Federal Government of Nigeria, thereby bringing about a new regime of transparency and accountability to the gaming industry.
“Lastly, this committee, on behalf of the House, should direct the EFCC and all other law enforcement agencies of the Federal Government to arrest and prosecute any operator(s) who fails to comply with the above stipulated requirements and operates outside of the circular issued by the NLRC, and continues with the illegality by playing Ghana games and/or uses its results, thereby depriving the Federal Government of its revenue.”