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Exclusive: Raising the Stakes – The Feminine Force in iGaming

At just 27, Maha Otu has proven her precociousness and intrepidity as she has climbed the ladder from  a contact centre agent to the director in one of Nigeria’s largest betting companies in a span of only 3 years. The bold Maha shares her personal experience in the Sports betting industry which has for years been dominated by the male gender. She also delves more on the double taxation crisis of Nigeria’s betting companies, the future of iGaming in Africa and much more. Maha Otu Women iGaming Africa

iGaming AFRIKA: Briefly tell us about yourself, how you started a career in Sports Betting, to climbing the ladder to  top leadership and how the journey has been so far.

Maha Otu: I started my career as a contact centre agent with one of the biggest betting brands in Nigeria. Initially, I had wished to work as an industrial chemist, which was my field of study where I did it at Degree level at Kwara State University from 2012-2016, but as we all know, landing a job opportunity  is never a walk in the park for most Nigerian youths. So I had to utilise every little job opportunity that came my way. Within the contact centre, I worked on various resolution channels, and that exposed me to the various challenges punters encounter, which helped me in my role as a Team Lead when I joined Betwinner. Through diligence and honesty, I was appointed as the Director of Betwinner Nigeria in 2021 at 25 years of age.

iGaming AFRIKA: What motivates you in your career as the Betwinner Nigeria Director?

Maha Otu: I am grateful to the shareholders for believing in what I offer and my motivation is to ensure that the decision is not in vain. Also, being a young director and making the company successful would create a shift in giving other young females a chance within the industry.

iGaming AFRIKA: What is your message to Investors who are closely monitoring the West African region as the best investment hub for their igaming projects?

Maha Otu: Africa is filled with so many untapped opportunities, and more opportunities keep getting unveiled as the continent grows in tech. The betting industry is still an attractive industry for investors as it is becoming more regulated, which gives investors a fair chance. My advice is for investors to make an investment now before it becomes too late.

iGaming AFRIKA: How does it feel to be a director of a sports betting company? Most especially at the age of 27 years and you being a lady even though this is a male-dominated field and industry? 

Maha Otu: To be honest, I feel special because this makes me different, and it feels like I am making history. Men are considered for operations positions before women. Even new companies wanting to start in Nigeria would reach out to men with that experience rather than considering a woman as a country manager, that diversity is not there yet and this could be because we have fewer women with experience in operations roles and women who may have such experience are not really out there. Women should not be afraid of chasing big dreams or applying for managerial roles or operations positions. You are more than sufficient to handle it. Most importantly, always believe in yourself because what goes on in your mind determines the aura you give people, and when they perceive doubt they can leverage that.

iGaming AFRIKA: Betwinner has been majorly focusing on online betting especially in Nigeria. Nonetheless, Nigeria has been renowned for its big retail market and most brands that have invested in that space are doing really well. Why is Betwinner not ready to take any risks and try to capture the retail market as well? Maha Otu Women iGaming Africa

Maha Otu: Not every company that goes retail succeeds, if we go with the majority how then are we different? We prefer to know what our niche is in the market and focus on that for now and if we are truly convinced to go retail then it would be done. We have a growing population of internet users and this is what we want to focus on by leveraging this.

iGaming AFRIKA: As we are in the digital era where technology cannot be ignored, does technology also play a key role for most organisations in the sports betting industry? If it does, what role has it played at Betwinner that you believe was the game changer for the company in the region?

Maha Otu: Our introduction of mobile applications and making our interface user-friendly. We keep improving our platform to suit the needs of the user.

Read Also: Kenyan Banks Start Sharing Customer data and balances with KRA

iGaming AFRIKA: How can you compare the gambling industry taxation policies in Nigeria as compared to the rest of Africa? Is it Nigeria that should learn from the rest of Africa or vice versa? 

Maha Otu: Currently, we are still battling the issue of double taxation between the federal government and state regulators. There is no unified taxation structure, and this has been an issue operators have been crying for help for, but there has been no concrete resolution to that yet and we hope we get a good resolution to that this year. Maha Otu Women iGaming Africa

iGaming AFRIKA: Gambling in Nigeria is regulated per state unlike in most African countries where regulation is done by one national body. Based on your experience in the industry, would you prefer national or state/divisional regulation for gambling across Africa? What are some of the benefits and or demerits of state vs national regulation?

Maha Otu: Having national vs state regulation is what leads to double taxation. As a company operating strictly online you would think that getting the national licence would allow me to operate freely anywhere in the country but that is not the case in Nigeria, we have to get licences for each state we wish to carry out any activity, which can be draining. As a company that operates online strictly, I would prefer to have a national licence and a unified state regulatory body to report to.

iGaming AFRIKA: Why is it important for operators to always put customer needs first while at the same time designing platforms that accommodate various types of punters and their preferences?

Maha Otu: Understanding customers can be a very daunting task as the entire success of the business depends on how well your platform is accepted by them. Customer satisfaction should be the core of any business, especially in this industry, the best way to scale up a gaming business in Africa is through customers’ testimonies, word of mouth and loyalty. When targeting a new region to enter it is important to be aware of what is needed by the customers there and if your business can keep up with the changing needs of these customers/punters and having flexible platforms that can easily accommodate modifications when necessary. Maha Otu Women iGaming Africa

iGaming AFRIKA: Which is the biggest challenge that you have encountered while doing business in Nigeria?

Maha Otu: The lack of unity between the federal and state regulators, inflation, and foreign exchange. It’s a growing market with a lot of opportunities for gaming companies that can be strategic with technological innovations and marketing.

iGaming AFRIKA: Are you planning to launch in more African countries? If yes, which are some of the countries you are considering to launch in? Any timelines for the same, furthermore, where do you see Betwinner in the next 5 years? Maha Otu Women iGaming Africa

Maha Otu: Yes, we are but I do not have the details as my only focus is Nigeria. In the next 5 years, Betwinner Nigeria will be the company people refer to when they talk about online gaming.

iGaming AFRIKA: We must congratulate you as you have recently obtained an MBA from Nexford University. It must not have been an easy experience for you as you at some point felt like giving up. Can you briefly tell us how the journey was and what this crown means for you? 

Maha Otu: I am grateful for the gesture. Honestly, I almost gave up at the beginning because it was difficult finding my balance as I had a science background and had to start this from scratch. I actually failed my first two assignments and just didn’t see I was going to make it through over 12 courses. If I couldn’t pass an assignment, this made me really scared. But one thing that gave me that motivation to figure it out was my mum because she kept reminding me that I can’t start this and not complete it, as it won’t be good for me or my career and I hate failing so I had no choice but to figure it out. I was so glad I made it through the first course, this made the others easier to navigate through and when I get stuck again I remember how far I have come to not give up.

iGaming AFRIKA: Betwinner Nigeria has had John Obi Mikel, (Former Chelsea and Nigeria National Team player) working very closely with you during events, most recently Back2Base (charity founded by Mikel Obi supporting young athletes). Why should more gaming brands invest in Corporate social responsibility (CSR)  related activities on the continent? Maha Otu Women iGaming Africa

Maha Otu: It was an absolute pleasure for Betwinner to support the good work Mikel Obi is doing by discovering these talents and giving them a helping hand. Whether we like it or not betting brands are mostly seen as vultures who just care about milking money from people and causing harm. CSR gives us the opportunity to give back to the community and prove that we also care about impacting positively to not just the economy but the people as well. Investing in more community work especially in Africa would help change the narrative and give room for more sensitization of responsible gaming.

iGaming AFRIKA: During the recently concluded show at SBC Summit Barcelona, you had a round table discussion about the Nigerian gaming market with Olabimpe Akingba, the Executive Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Bookmakers. What was your takeaway message regarding what operators wanting to invest in Nigeria should be aware of? 

Maha Otu: Yes, we had a wonderful conversation in SBC about the Nigerian gaming industry. The key takeaway was that there is still a huge room for investment in the industry as it is growing rapidly with increasing technology and population. However, investors need to have the right experts to guide them through navigating some challenges like the instability in the economy which affects the foreign exchange (FX) & Taxation. Maha Otu Women iGaming Africa

iGaming AFRIKA: Is Africa well primed to compete on the global scale with other nations in the field of Gaming? Based on your response above, where can we do better?

Maha Otu: We still have lots of lapses in regulations, taxation and responsible gambling that need to be fixed in order to have a more trusted system and meet global standards. We have the resources and the population where investors should have a better chance of making profits but these challenges that the regulators ignore discourages business and have affected several operators who may not find it bearable.

iGaming AFRIKA: How would you evaluate the industry in terms of gender inclusion and diversity?

Maha Otu: I feel there is still a lot of disparity and the industry is still very unbalanced in that aspect. It would take some time but we hope to reach the point where women are considered for more executive or operational roles when they have the same or more qualifications as the men.

iGaming AFRIKA: In 2023, you have undoubtedly experienced a year filled with beauty and joy. We have received news of your splendid wedding held in Lagos, Nigeria this past month. How does family or friendship ties contribute to maintaining mental stability and concentration at the workplace?

Maha Otu: Thank you very much, it was indeed a very happy year for me. My relationships have helped shape me into the woman I am. My husband has been an amazing support system and helped my manoeuvre this huge responsibility which can be very overwhelming at times, but when you have someone who you can offload that burden to and helps you see things in a different perspective it helps me think better as a leader and not bottle up all these feelings which may indirectly reflect on how I treat my colleagues. I love my family so much and talking to them gives me peace and just makes me happy. 

iGaming AFRIKA: Your brand strongly acknowledges the importance of and application of affiliate marketing in digital marketing campaigns. How is this modern way of advertising helping you to achieve growth for your business in Nigeria?

Maha Otu: Affiliate marketing is a huge part of the business as this helps with ensuring direct marketing is getting to the right audience and it helps us get our own percentage in the market. 

iGaming AFRIKA: Which mistakes should igaming brands avoid when setting up in Africa or when expanding operations in more countries on the continent?

Maha Otu: One mistake we see companies doing over again is not considering localization. We can’t overemphasise this issue because the best way to get people engaged with your platform is when they can easily understand it and navigate through it without complications. Operators need to understand that Africa is a unique market and do away with the one rule that fits all, every country has what is unique to them and that can reflect on the platform.

iGaming AFRIKA: Why should iGaming brands on the continent utilise the power of brand ambassadorship in their advertising campaigns?

Maha Otu: Having a brand ambassador helps a brand to be seen and how you make use of this can be a game changer. The brand ambassador becomes the face of the brand which makes people feel safe with the brand and it solves the trust issues that would be associated with a faceless brand.

Summary about Maha Otu 

  • Did a Degree course in Industrial Chemistry at Kwara State University from 2012-2016.
  • After obtaining her Industrial Chemistry degree, she failed to secure a job in the field for two years and opted for a  career as a contact centre agent with one of sports betting brands in Nigeria.
  • Joined Betwinner in August 2020 as a team lead for the call centre.
  • Just 8 months after joining Betwinner, she rose to the Director role while at the age of 25.
  • Graduated with an MBA in 2023 from  Nexford University.

Key Maha Otu Quotes

  • The betting industry is still an attractive industry for investors as it is becoming more regulated, which gives investors a fair chance. 
  • Men are considered for operations positions before women. Even new companies wanting to start in Nigeria would reach out to men with that experience rather than considering a woman as a country manager, that diversity is not there yet and this could be because we have fewer women with experience in operations roles and women who may have such experience are not really out there. 
  • The issue of double taxation between the federal government and state regulators remains to be the main battle as there is no unified taxation structure, and this has been an issue operators have been crying for help for.
  • Customer satisfaction should be the core of any business, especially in the betting industry, the best way to scale up a gaming business in Africa is through customers’ testimonies, word of mouth and loyalty. 
  • The lack of unity between the federal and state regulators, inflation, and foreign exchange is the biggest challenge that betting companies face in Nigeria.
  • CSR gives us the opportunity to give back to the community and prove that we also care about impacting positively to not just the economy but the people as well. 
  • One mistake we see companies doing over again is not considering localization.
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