BY ONUKOGU KANAYOCHUQU JUBAL, TAOFEEK LAWAL and KABIR AKINTAYO
The fever of sports betting is spreading all over the world and it has caught up with Nigeria. Sports betting has become a 21st Century money-spinning, entrancing venture for the Nigerian youth population, who have embraced it with both hands for financial succour. ONUKOGU KANAYOCHUQU JUBAL, TAOFEEK LAWAL and KABIR AKINTAYO write
Every match day, whether it involves a major or minor club, young people – bankers, spinsters, traders, business people, secondary school students, undergraduates, journalists, doctors – take to online betting websites (depending on their knowledge of the internet) or queue at betting parlours to stake their claim and make predictions for games, some of which they have never seen live; from football, to horse-racing and go-karting, dog-racing to mountain-racing and everything in-between, a bet is made.
After placing their bets, they wait frantically, for the sport to be done with and zoom in to find out how much they have made. Many are unbelievably lucky, winning millions of naira, many others do not win as much, while millions of others lose their bets.
The cycle goes on, as they wait for another game-day, to place their bets.
But, why do Nigerians love betting so much?
For Sopuru Chinakwe, who spoke to our correspondent from a NaijaBet parlour in Wuse, just before last week’s Classico, between Real Madrid and Barcelona of Spain, the money is too good to be true.
“Bros, I have won N150,000 once, without doing any hard work. That was last year. If I keep winning like that, I won’t have to work for anybody in my life again. But, you know, this is a game; sometime, you win, other times, you lose. But, for someone like me, even though, I have a job, I just want to get as lucky as I did the first time.
“Bros, if you play once and win, you will never like to stop,” he said.
He is not the only one who is carried away by the mere mention of millions payable to winners, during adverts by respected ambassadors and former footballers like Kanu Nwankwo, Mutiu Adepoju, Victor Ikpeba and other foreign stars.
Sport betting is a form of gambling that entails placing a wager, also known as a bet, on the outcome of a sporting event, hoping to predict the outcome correctly and win additional money. With the exception of spread betting, ‘draw no bet’ wagers and a few other examples, a bet will have two possible outcomes.
Before now, ‘pool’ staking and the lottery, popularly known as ‘Baba Ijebu’, were the popular gambling systems known to most Nigerians. However, while the two can be regarded as the forerunners of gambling in Nigeria, the widely popular sport betting has become the in-thing.
The betting industry has been made popular by football clubs in Europe and other parts of the world who, week-in, week-out, test their might to win the league in their countries. With the large population of youths in the country roughly put above 60 million, the betting industry has become a big one where youths and, even, older citizens rake in thousands and millions of naira by correctly predicting matches or games.
Although there are other games like tennis, snooker, basketball, swimming that bet can be placed on, football seems to have an edge over other sports. It is regarded as the ‘king’ of sports worldwide, given the passion which accompanies the game in Nigeria and the world over. There is no doubt that football is a religion in Nigeria and it should not come as a surprise that the sport betting revolves around the beautiful game.
The biggest bets, according to Nwadindu Elias, who operates a betting parlour in Mararaba, Nasarawa State, are placed on days when the English Premier League (EPL), Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, Dutch Eredevisie and French Ligue 1 are in full swing, in comparison to days when games from the other obscure leagues of the world are decided.
How does betting work anyway?
Chinonyerem Madukwe, who claims to be a ‘betting guru’ and operates from Aba, Abia State, told our correspondent that a bet could be placed on how many goals would be scored by a team, the first team to score, the team that would lose and, at times, the players who would score the first goal of the game.
“It would interest you to know that you can also predict if the first-half of a particular game will end in a draw or not. Whether the game now ends with goal feast during the second stanza does not concern you, as you have already made or pocketed your money.
“This way, some artisans have turned millionaires overnight while young school leavers, fresh graduates are also smiling to the banks daily,” he said.
Madukwe has two laptops, two phones and an iPad which he uses to log on to various websites to monitor his bets and watch his stakes grow. He wouldn’t be in trouble if he loses his bets, but his credibility would be questioned.
“I convince relatives and other people to make small bets with me and I help them place it in the bigger ones online. I place their bets and help them watch if for the duration of the game and, a lot of times, they are successful,” he said.
Now we see youths with different sizes of laptops in major Nigerian cities monitoring the game of football and making their fortunes. A research carried out in 2014 showed that Nigerians spend average of N1.8 billon daily on sports betting. The investigation revealed that about 60 million Nigeria youths commit an average of N3,000 daily to have their lives turned around or for Mother Luck to smile on them through sport betting. An investigation carried out by our correspondents revealed that the people in the business make their money through the patronage they get from their customers and the amount of money they put in the games. For example, if, between 100 and 200 customers flood a betting shop with an average amount of N2,000, there is no probability that all of them would predict correctly. It is from the wrong predictions that the betting parlour owner makes his money.
If you multiply 200 customers by N2,000 what you get is N400,000. It is so sure that, out of this amount, the betting shop definitely gets, at least, one-third of the money from its customers.
The CEO of a betting parlour, who simply gave his name as Sunday, told our correspondent that he was fully occupied by the business. According to him, he started the business in the third quarter of 2016 when the leagues in Europe were about to start and he has not regretted his decision.
“I think this is better than taking to crime. It is the situation we find ourselves in Nigeria because of limited employment opportunities. Our cause is not being helped by the recession we are going through in the past 18 months and instead of dissipating your energy on things that will land you in jail, this business has provided a soft landing for us and we are maximising the opportunities. The good thing is that I’m meeting my family needs which is the most important; rather than being idle doing nothing. My brother, we all know that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”
Others who spoke with our correspondents spoke along same line with Sunday.
Mr Seedorf, owner of a BetNaija shop located at Apo Resettlement, Abuja and five other betting shops in the Federal Capital Territory, has never regretted not working.
“Different calibre of people troop in and out of my shop daily, including those in government, politicians and others and when I look at them, I am very proud to have invested in this business. I have witnessed a lot of breakthrough through sport betting,” he stated.
A patron, Tony Aiyegba, who recently won over N1million through betting, told our correspondent that he did not believe it was that simple, either.
“My brother, it is God. There is no master in sport betting; only luck. Many lucky ones have won more than me, while some have not. Recently, I won N1.5million, with just N1,000. My life has been elevated since then. Now, I have my car and I have invested in different businesses. I barely ate a square meal in a day before, but, now I give thanks to God,” he said.
Another patron, Samson said he started sport betting in 2014 and, so far, has invested more than N100,000.
“Nothing good comes easy. I have spent a lot on sports betting, although I won N150,000 early in 2015. It encouraged me to keep on playing and never give up,” he said.
But Seedorf would not disclose how much he nets on every big match day.
“I have no regrets in investing in it, but, you know, what I make daily is known to me alone. Besides, more persons are also joining the business. I don’t want to tell you how much I make daily. What I can tell you is that those who win huge amounts are paid through money transfer for security reasons. On the other hand, those that lose mostly are the greedy ones who believe in using N100 to win N1million,” he said, as he further disclosed that “only people who use a good sum can win anything tangible.”
Another winner, a gateman and resident of Apo, Abuja, Mr Sheriff Awalu, won N2.5million recently, with just N500.
“I am just a gateman, with a little income. My families are in Nasarawa, but the love I have for sports made me stake my money in it. I play only during weekends whenever I am free, but, I did not even believe it when I won N2.5million. I thought it was a joke and I warned the first person to tell me to stop it. I thought it was a lie, until I was paid. Now, I am building my house in Keffi, Nasarawa State.
“Of course, I have stopped the ‘gate-man’ job. I have a shop full of provisions.”
Awalu is one of the lucky ones who have won big in the recent times. Many others were not that lucky.
A member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) serving in Abuja, Samson Ademola, said he had been into sport betting since his 200 level, but has never won big.
“I just won N50,000 once. After that the rest is always ‘change’, like N10,000 or, even, less. Yet, I have spent over N100, 000 on betting. I can’t believe I have not made up to that amount.”
Inspite of his mixed fortunes, he vowed never to quit.
“I will keep playing, because it has become a part of me and my way of life,” he said.
What sucked in Afeez Ibrahim to engage in port betting was his passion.
“Whenever I bet, it makes me have passion for football, especially when watching. I watch with keen interest and it makes me feel good about life. I don’t care, really, about the money, or winning,” he said.
Jide Taiwo was one of the novices who joined recently, no thanks to peer pressure.
“Whenever I bet, I come so close to winning, because I always fail to get one game right. But I keep hope alive, believing that, one day, I will win something,” he said, disclosing that he invested more than N8,000 in the last one month in sports betting.
Women are not left out. Hordesof women cast their bets weekly, with even fewer having any idea of how it works. Many more are willing to play, but do not know how to go about it.
Chioma Akwaja, a student of the University of Abuja, is one of the few who knows how to place bets.
She started when her friend won N50,000 in her presence.
“I know it is odd for a woman to bet in sport, as I hardly watch football. But after I saw my friend win, I just wanted to win money, too, since that is the new way of making quick cash.”
Donald Osasuyi, who owns a NaijaBet shop in Gwagwalada, a suburb of Abuja, said the number who troop in daily, especially on match days were difficult to deal with.
“As you can see, most of the young people have turned sport betting to their easiest way of making money. Before, they engaged in stealing, robbery and theft. Now, the game has changed their mind sets.”
Osasuyi stressed that, as much as he enjoyed raking in the money from the crowd, he would not allow players younger than 18 to get involved.
“Anybody below 18 years cannot be attended to. We use their ID cards to identify them whenever we want to pay out the winnings.”
The rules have been laid and, during a game, clearly, only adults – educated or no – could be seen trooping in.
One of the faithful, who gave his name simply as Mr Babalola, tied his involvement to the economic recession.
“Everything is sky-rocketing and salaries are still where they are. Bills are piling up everywhere and, as an intellectual, I need to get engaged in other things that yield money. Sport betting is a blessing in disguise,” he said.
Ibrahim Shittu, who works with an NGO, blamed the high unemployment rate in the countryfor the rush to sport betting.
“If young people are occupied and engaged with work, the rate of sport betting will reduce. The idleness of the youth makes the rate to be so alarming.”
But would the sports betting patrons make their money when the football season is over?
“For me (I cannot talk about others), what I do during the season is to save certain percentage of what I made for my family’s upkeep and put into another business that will sustain me during the three months that season in Europe are on break,” Sunday informed this paper.
For those who patronise the industry, there can never be a dull moment for them as long as the season is on. No weekend is complete if they have not placed a bet on their favourite teams who either makes them richer or give them setback as the case may be based on the scores for the weekend.
Now, if so much is made by betting parlours daily, who watches over the money-spinning industry and ensures that the nation does not lose and laws are not broken? More so, are there any laws regulating betting in our country?
The National Lottery Act, 2005 empowers the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) to regulate and administer lottery business in Nigeria.
But the director-general of the NLRC, Adolphus Ekpe, insists that the commission is not reneging on its duties, as it was doing all in it power to prevent sports betting from getting out of hand and spiralling into full-scale gambling.
“Sport betting is an aspect of lottery. Now, when there is a prize based on an outcome of a sports event and somebody is running a scheme on that, telling you that if you do this – based on this result – if you can predict this right, you stand a chance of winning, the person has used sports to come up with a lottery scheme.
“So, it is a legitimate scheme, but the point there is, when you do not regulate sports scheme in a transparent way that is where the gambling aspect comes in,” he said.
Does it then mean that sports betting is regulated and is government making some money from it?
“When you regulate it in a transparent way, you now know that whatever the person is betting on, some amount is coming to government. Now, when the person wins, the person is entitled to what the person wins.
“We decided to set up a framework to regulate sports betting and that is why we have what we call ‘Rules Guiding Sports Lottery in Nigeria’ which we have developed. We have given notice to all those who have been carrying out these activities, to come regularise and subject themselves to regulations, so that they can carry on transparently and be accountable to the country.
“That is what we are working on now. We have identified them and some of them have even applied,’’ he said.
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