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Underage betting as metaphor for societal decadence

By By Omiko Awa
19 March 2023   |   3:58 am
“Oh, I have just lost another chance to win N150, 000,” Jide Adeleke agonised, almost drawn to tears. “It was just one figure that spoilt the whole ticket,” the 15-year-old SSS II student of a secondary school in Agbado Ijaiye, lamented before his friends who encouraged him not to give up.

underage betting. Pix:Within Nigeria

“Oh, I have just lost another chance to win N150, 000,” Jide Adeleke agonised, almost drawn to tears. “It was just one figure that spoilt the whole ticket,” the 15-year-old SSS II student of a secondary school in Agbado Ijaiye, lamented before his friends who encouraged him not to give up.

Master Adeleke is among the crowd of minors bitten by the betting bug in Lagos State and across the country. A good number of underage partake in the sports betting, lottery and gaming industry across the country, in contravention of the laws regulating the industry.

In some parts of Lagos State, especially the suburbs including Igando, Badagry, Alapere, Ikorodu, Alaba, Agege and even Mushin, teenagers are often seen staking at lottery or sports betting centres. On another hand, their colleagues in city centres such as Ikeja, Ikoyi, Obalende and others do it behind the scene to avoid the glare of critics.

Aside from its various enlightenment campaigns, the Lagos State Lotteries Board (LSLB) regularly sensitises the public and also discourages persons below 18 years from sports betting. But the practice persists with more teenagers getting involved every day.

The growing phenomenon, The Guardian learnt, has become a source of worry to parents whose children/wards spend long hours at gaming centres waiting for results of matches that would determine the success, or otherwise, of their stakes.

Adeleke had become a bettor through the influence of one of his uncles who often sent him to procure the bet card on his behalf and as well as check the winning numbers. The combined fascination of his uncle’s wins and the regular presence of persons of his age at the centres further emboldened his interest in betting.

“I started precisely February last year, and I am grateful I did. Although, I did not start winning immediately, I can comfortably say I have recovered most of the money I lost in the past. I win between N6, 000 and N10, 000 on weekly basis. This does not mean I do not lose, but my winnings are more than losses. One has to be patient and study the winning techniques. I learnt a lot from my uncle and friends who have been doing it before me,” he said.

Kunle Adeyanju, a 17-year-old aluminium fabricator apprentice in Aluminum Village, Dopemu, Lagos, believes that nobody will see a free source of money and not grab it.

According to him, betting became his pastime when he discovered that with as little as N200, he could win amounts ranging from N2,000 to N10,000 without sweat. He disclosed that his friends and co-apprentices influenced him to participate in betting when he began to see them buy different items and always with money.

Having watched his friends over time, Adeyanju started with his daily lunch money and with time, began to pilfer his master’s money for sports betting.

“I am dreaming of the day I will win more than N10 million because my friend told me it is possible and also showed me a Nigerian that won more than N14 million from betting. I look forward to that day and will continue playing till I win,” he said.

But is Adeyanju not aware of the laws prohibiting the underage from betting? He retorts: “It will be difficult for anyone to tell if I am underage; age is never written on the face.” He supports his argument with the fate that since his father passed on when he was 16 years old, he has been playing the role of an adult. He added that many young people like him have taken it as a way of life and their only means of getting money to meet their needs.

“At my age, now 17, with a widowed mother, who sells by the roadside to maintain herself and four other children, it will be improper to still depend on her for my needs. I do not want to steal, so, I depend on the little money I make from betting to keep myself going till I am strong enough to be on my own,” he said.

For Taiwo Fadiran, a 16-year-old bettor, it was the fun of predicting winners in games, including dog, horse and bike racings and normal football matches that attracted him. “Initially, I was just doing it for the fun of it until a neighbour informed me that I could make money from my predictions, since then it has become my pastime,” he recalled.

According to Fadiran, his neighbour bought two split cards, one for him and the other for himself and he predicted and the man won N20,000, while he won N2,000. The winning, he disclosed, spurred him into the world of betting.

The underaged bettor disclosed that there was a time he promised himself he would never bet again because he had lost so much money with people around seeing him as being notorious, but he soon changed his mind when he won N5000 with as little as N200. He had since become addicted, adding that no day passes by without him playing a game.

“To sustain my passion, I have to always keep some money aside from each win to play another. I do this to prevent my parents from finding out because if they do, they will skin me alive,” he said.

Another bettor, Bolu Fakade, an apprentice welder in Ikorodu, who turned 15 in July, moves around with a Samsung Galaxy phone, which he boasts he bought at the sum of N80,000 from money he won from sports betting. Fakade, who disclosed that he plays both virtual and real betting and makes good money from them, revealed that he started playing when he was 14 with money he pilfered from his parents, especially his mother, until he began to win big. Fakade has no regrets over his actions.

“Last week, I won N80,000 from a stake of N5,000. I told my parents where the money came from and gave it to them. They collected it and blessed me and I am hoping to win more. I play both virtual football and physical betting. I monitor the virtual on my phone. Betting is a game you sometimes lose and at other times, you win big. I win more on the virtual and the payment is immediate because it is an instant game. It is not like betting on conventional football matches, where you have to wait a while. I have bought many things including phones and laptops from the money I won from sports betting.”

Helpless Operators
Despite placing the 18 plus banners conspicuously at the front and inside his betting shop, and being aware that both the Federal and Lagos State laws prohibit anybody under 18 years from participating in betting, Almoroof Opeyemi, an operator of a betting agency, allows the underage to place their bets on different games, including virtual and live football, and virtual dog and horse racings, among others.

Explaining his plight, Opeyemi disclosed that it is not always easy to tell the difference between some 15, 16, 17-year-old teenagers from 18, 19, and 20-year-olds, nor do they carry their birth certificates about.

He noted that no entrepreneur would deliberately go against the law and put his/her operating certificate at the risk of seizure or withdrawal, stressing that he chases bettors that are clearly underage away each time he notices.

He disclosed that often times when he chases them away, some adults do show sympathy for them and buy cards, play and submit on their behalf. In such situations, Opeyemi is usually helpless, especially as the adults claim the cards are theirs.

For Afolabi Atoyibi who operates at Olosha in Mushin area of Lagos, the issue of not allowing underage to bet is based on the environment one operates in.

According to him, sports bet operators around Olosha, Alaka, Mushin and the environs, cannot be said to be free from this crime because these areas could be classified as slums where the only known rule is survival.

Atoyibi stressed that, this is an area where a whole family — father, mother and their underaged children — partake in betting. They see it as a way of earning more income to maintain their family.

He said: “If you are too hard on the customers around here by operating according to the law, the people will force you out of business; they will see you as blocking their easy source of income. So, I only allow those that look like adults to come in, even when I know they are under 18 years. This is because any attempt to prevent them from betting would be tagged as an attempt to stop them from making progress.

“I had tried in the past and was almost beaten to death. So, if you want to stop them, just be ready for war. You will even be surprised to see their parents supporting them against you. To save my business and life, I open for them in the evenings and sometime on public holidays, when many people are not paying attention to who comes into my shop or goes out from it. The case is serious that not even the police can stop them.”

Government’s Stand
Disapproving persons under the age of 18 from betting, the Chief Executive Officer/General Manager, Lagos State Lotteries and Gaming Board (LSLGA) Board, Mr. Bashir Abiola Are, recently warned that any underage who provides inaccurate information regarding his/her true age during betting may have all winnings forfeited and could face criminal prosecution.

He also frowned at operators encouraging underage betting, warning that if any is caught, such agency would be shut down, suspended or penalised for failure to adhere by responsible gaming policies, stressing that all operators in the state must adhere to the policy by ensuring that underage are prevented from betting.

The regulatory authority’s helmsman enjoined members of the public to partner with the board to make sure that children under 18 years do not participate in sports betting.

Curbing Underage Betting
Ifegbeson Peters, a professor of social studies at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, believes that if the regulatory agencies could live up to expectations, the situation would be minimised.

He noted that most of the underaged bettors are operating under the Strain Theory, which states that delinquency sets in when an individual fails to achieve their set goals through legitimate means. To make up for their lack, they will turn to illegitimate channels of goal achievement or strike at the source of their frustration or anger.

According to him, if Lagosians observe carefully, they will find out that most the under-18s involved in the illegality are from poor homes, slums or environments where there are a dearth of basic social amenities to sustain their parents, so, they begin to look for money to fend for themselves and support their parents while they are still teenagers.

“It is unfortunate that despite the laws both at the state and federal levels, betting shop owners still allow these children. This shows the state of our society — a society when nobody cares where one, even a child, get his/her money, a society where corruption is the order of the day. So, the teenagers do see betting as one of the ways to get rich quick.”

The university don called on parents to engage their children, and make them use their free time to learn any skill of interest.

Equally not pleased with the situation, Juliet Vincent-Obi, teens and youth mentor, and the co-founder of Kidpreneur Africa, noted that despite the huge money sports betting rakes in for the state and the federal government, parents and caregivers should not turn blind eyes to its harmful effect on the teenagers.

According to her, juvenile sports betting leads to provocation and sometimes crime, adding that betting gives them this false impression that they will become a millionaire through betting on games.

The teens and teenager mentor noted: “Allowing under 18s to be involved in sports betting could make them lazy, make them indulge in the habit of borrowing, indebtedness, and greed. Parents should also know the friends their children keep, monitor what they do and know when to separate their children from those who influence them negatively. This is because most teenagers into betting indulge in it through peer influence and this could destroy their future if not check to make them stop it.”

For Caroline Oluwatoyin Aiyegboka, school counsellor/psychologist, Army Command Day Secondary School, Mokola, Ibadan, juvenile sports betting is addictive and could make young people dropout of school and also contribute to maladjusted behaviours such as staying out late or even absconding from home, being rebellious against parents and constituted authorities or being indifferent to the concerns and needs of their family members, among others.

She said: “If an underage betting game is not curbed, we may end up producing greedy, covetous, lazy and irresponsible adults. Also, when the game does not pay off as expected, these underage may begin to move into advance fee fraud (419), Internet fraud and others, and cause pains to innocent citizens because of their greed.”

On the way out of this situation, the psychologist disclosed that it is a malaise all agents of socialisation — school, religious bodies, government, corporative organisations family, and community leaders, among others — must join hands to contain before it gets to the fabrics of the society, especially in the rural areas where monitoring is next to nothing.

She called on parents and guardians who usually send their children and wards to either buy the sports betting card or play on their behalf to desist from it, saying such errands encourage the under-18s to begin to think of betting.

Aiyegboka noted that sending or making the underage to be in the vicinity of betting centres may be another indirect way of introducing these young ones to the game.

“While we cannot deny poverty, lack of proper guidance, poor parenting, covetousness, peer group influence, get-rich-quick syndrome as the major causes, we can also not rule out the fact that some parents and wards themselves indirectly introduce their under 18 children/wards to this habit. They do this by sending them to betting centres to either get the sporting cards or even play on their behalf. This is part of the things that must be checked if we must all join hands to curb this menace,” she noted.

Commenting on how those already deeply involved can get help, the school counsellor/psychologist suggested that they should be referred to school counsellors or clinical child and adolescent psychologists for proper counseling and rehabitation if need be.

According to her, this group of people has the professional skills to make the teenagers see the dangers of their involvement in the menace and also know how to get them out of it.