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Inside Nigeria’s bourgeoning Sports betting industry

By  Tobi Awodipe, Ijeoma Thomas-Odia and Maria Diamond
02 October 2021   |   2:03 am
The increasing rate at which sports betting companies emerge in the country clearly indicates that gambling is fast becoming an acceptable norm among Nigerians despite being detested in the past.

Stakers in a sports betting centre

The increasing rate at which sports betting companies emerge in the country clearly indicates that gambling is fast becoming an acceptable norm among Nigerians despite being detested in the past.

Children, youth and the elderly across both sexes now engage in sports betting without bathing an eyelid. Since September 7, 2018, when the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) issued the Africa Betting Company Nigeria Ltd (Afribet) a five-year licence to operate as a sports betting company in the country, additional 35 such licences have been issued in the last three years, the latest being the Winners Golden Bet Nigeria Ltd (Winners Golden Bet) which got its five-year licence on June 19, 2020.

Other operators formally listed by the NLRC are KC Gaming Bet (Bet9ja); AlphaGram West Africa Ltd (Alpahgramwa); Sporty Internet Ltd (Sportybet); Promoserve Inter Links Ltd (iBet); Digi Bay Limited (Betway); Over the Top Entertainment Ltd (Nairabet); TM Gaming Ltd (Access Bet); Blackbet Ltd (Blackbet); Crystral Gaming Limited (Betbiga); Naijabet Limited (Naijabet); Interactive Gaming Solutions Limited (Cloud Bet); VisaTech Limited (BetLion); Calgary Online Limited (BETPAWA); Beaufortbet Nigeria Limited (1Xbet); Mobile Sport Limited (Msport) and Advance Hospitality Limited (Betwinner).

There are also Bet24hrs Gaming Company Limited (BET24HRS); EPL Partners Nigeria Limited (BETBONANZA); Zegaming Nigeria Limited (ZEBET); Mobile Sport Limited (MSPORT); Interwetten Nigeria Limited (Interwetten); Shade International Gaming Limited (Betika); Otrada Hospitality Limited (Melbet); Infinity Mobile Gaming & Entertainment Limited (Bangbet); SV Gaming Limited (BETKING); Neomobile Entertainment Ltd (Booster 99); Arcadia Hospitality Limited (22BET); Merrybet Gold Limited (MERRYBET); Lucky9ja Lotto Limited (ILOT); Soloti Gaming Ltd (FRAPAPA); N1 Interactive Africa Limited (N1); Starlight Ace Verde Gaming Ltd (Star Bet) and West Africa Betting Investment Limited (Betmojo).

These betting companies have taken advantage of Nigeria’s huge size and population and are scattered across the nooks and crannies of the country such that many Nigerians can easily access them, both online and offline, and have embraced betting as another formal way of making money. In fact, these days, a lot of people who abuse or praise the coach of a football club or his players for winning or losing a game do so not because of their love for the club but because the result of the match either “tore their ticket” or put money in their pockets. This is also the case with other sports, whether it is tennis, water polo, ice hockey, baseball, boxing or cycling.

Many of those who patronise these betting companies confessed to The Guardian that because of the economic situation of the country, betting has become an attractive means of livelihood and not just a mere pastime.

One of them, Kafayat Adelakun, who resides in Oshodi area of Lagos State, said: “If there is any time that betting is productive, it is this era of hardship in this country. Only last week I won N30, 000 after playing with N600 only. What else can give me that kind of money? The N30, 000 I won went a long way for my family, even though the high cost of living made the money seem very insignificant. The truth is, I don’t see myself relaxing my betting habit because it has done me more good than harm.”

Adelakun admitted that he had lost money to sports betting in the past and expressed regret venturing into it during such times. However, he said he was most times consoled by the fact that some of his friends who win significant money get generous with it.

“Two weeks ago, a friend of mine who sells sachet water won N60, 000 and she gave me N5, 000. When I won my N30, 000, I gave some money to another friend who was struggling to make ends meet. So, to me, it’s a win-win situation,” he said.

Sulaimon Kareem, a vulcaniser in Ikotun Egbe area of Lagos, described betting as his saving grace in the face of the current hardship in the country.

“I never engaged in betting until recently when I realised that even people who don’t have any other means of income except betting all day long decently meet their needs. Yes, some of them would even come to you to borrow the money they use to bet and return it with interest even though you didn’t ask them for interest in the first place. This is why I decided to start betting. Since I started, I practically pay my outrageous electricity bill with proceeds from betting.

“I am on a post-paid billing system and I get approximately N34, 000 every month. If not for the savings I keep from bet money, how am I supposed to pay such a bill? Do I really make up to N30, 000 after feeding my family from this job every month that I would now be able to pay N34, 000 for electricity every month?

“Of course, with betting there are loss days but the win days cover up for the losses. Some months, I don’t win at all, but when I win, I make good use of the money,” he said.

On his part, Daniel Michael, a factory worker, said betting helped to restore his hope. “I usually play bet. In fact, all my friends do and it is fun to bet. We discuss our bets too, which helps every one of us to look forward to it.

“I won’t say I have won so much but the prospects are high. Each bet gives hope that someday I will have something better. So far, I have won between N5, 000 to N7, 000. I look forward to bigger winnings. I am not giving up on betting,” he said.

Samuel (surname withheld), who lives in Isolo area, also said: “It’s almost impossible not to turn to betting these days. Just look around; the economy is bad, times are hard and there are a lot of jobless people around struggling to put food on their tables. Betting is simply trying to multiply the money you have at hand, using money to try to make more money.

“Betting has changed the lives of some people and many will continue to believe it can change theirs too. You have N2, 000 and there’s a platform where you can double that, of course people would consider it. Even paid employees are heavily betting and when it comes to money, humans always want more, it’s never enough. This is one of the reasons betting will continue to thrive.”

Samuel admitted that betting is very addictive, adding that it was one of the reasons it would continue to thrive. “Even when people are losing money, they will still continue to bet. They will even open new accounts with other bookies. It’s just like being addicted to drugs. You give a drug addict money to feed himself, rather than do that, he would first satisfy his addiction. That is how bad addiction is. Someone will have N10, 000, lose all to betting and instead of them to step back and leave it alone, you will see them begging for money to stake. That tomorrow game fit come belief will make some people never take a break from betting,” he added.

Samuel, who said he had quit active betting, added that betting had wrecked many people who became heavily indebted because they borrowed money to bet and lost everything.

“When I was still betting heavily, the longest I went without winning anything was about four days and like any gambler would tell you, you feel very anxious when you are not winning anything. The bookies will keep making new customers and people will keep patronising them. Look around, new bookies are springing up everyday, offline and online, and they are all making sales because people are desperate.

“I won’t advise anyone to make betting the main source of income because anything can happen in sports betting but, as always, don’t stake what you cannot afford to lose. Betting is so common these days, primary school and JSS1 students are all involved in it; they have access to smartphones and are very active betting online. I know of someone in a private university that took N500,000 from his N800,000 school fees to play two odds but his ticket cut and that was the end of his study for that year.

“From my experience and estimate, I would say that about 90 per cent of Nigerian youths are involved in betting. I know of someone that has over 15 bet accounts with different bookies and he has lost more money than he has ever won,” he added.

Samuel noted that betting has become a global problem, not peculiar to Nigeria. According to him, the main reason people lose a lot of money to betting is greed, because they are never satisfied with little, which drives them to the point of addiction.

“Everyone knows the easiest way to lose your money is when you play virtual, dice and dog race. You either win very fast or lose very fast. The highest I ever won was N10 million from a rollover ticket and I invested the money in different things. From a single ticket, I have won N700, 000. It looks like easy money but I have also lost a lot while forecasting odds as well. When a ticket cuts, there is the crazy urge to re-bet immediately to recoup the money lost, and when you begin to go down that path, you are gone. You will keep trying to regain what you lost over an over again; it’s a never ending cycle.”

He observed that the testimonies of people that have won big amounts encourage many poor Nigerians to bet. A civil servant, John Emmanuel, who also revealed that he used to be a chronic bettor, said he now indulge in betting at weekends.

“The Champions League is usually played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Other big leagues are played on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Before now, I played heavily; I used to spend at least N10, 000 on betting every week.

“It is not easy; you win some, you lose some. But I noticed that I spent more than I was earning so I had to pull back drastically. I am no longer addicted to betting. But betting is not easy to stop once you get involved,” Emmanuel said. He revealed that the last time he checked his BetNaija account, he discovered that he was N100, 000 better.

“However, I noticed that their odds were getting smaller. So, I opened accounts with Betking and 9jabet. BetNaija got me so glued in the beginning that every night I didn’t sleep till 2:00am trying to forecast games. These days, I don’t forecast anymore. I just play what I feel, but I hardly win. The last time I won was in January this year. So, I have been losing,” he said.

For Kemi Ali, betting has become part of the requirements to enjoy any sport, especially football. Ali, who noted that her husband and her passionately bet, said they had been doing that since 2016.

“We have been playing since 2016; we have had a lot of winnings. The highest amount I have played at once is N20, 000. For us, betting is a side hustle, which we enjoy especially during the Premier League season. We make a lot of money and we loose too. When the game is very sure and winning rates are high, I play.

“A friend of my husband bought his present car, Toyota Corolla, in 2014 with SportyBet winnings. He played with N400, 000 and was rewarded with N3.8 million naira.” To Ali, sport betting is worth the risk, but she advised potential bettors against using their last cash to bet.

“It is just mere prediction; you might win or loose,” she said. An active bettor, who identified himself simply as Lanre, described betting as one of the fastest ways to make money these days.

“There’s the virtual betting where you can win or lose your money under five minutes. The fact that it’s a way to get quick money or double your N500 or N1000 is one of the reasons more and more people are turning to betting these days.

“I’m not sure how I started betting but I think it has to do with hearing the stories of people winning big through betting. In March last year, I won N50, 000 with just N100 naira and people around me then who were never betting felt it was very easy and started asking how to register and play on bet sites. Those success stories lure many people into betting and they find it hard to get out of it. If you had asked me years ago if I was addicted to it, I would have said yes but now, I’ll rather eat two well-prepared meat pie and a litre of yoghurt before thinking about betting. One month or so was the longest I went without winning anything. But most of the bets I play these days are vouchers I get from the betting platforms and my biggest win was N100, 000. I won’t say how much I have lost so far. I don’t want to remember that,” he enthused.