Sports-betting: The return of pools

The 2018 World Cup in Russia that kicked off on Thursday, last week, has seen people besiege sports betting centres to win easy money. It is commonly called “reward for passion” by sporting agencies and has its origin in the 1920s. The federal government says it is legal, but is sports-betting really blame-free or an avenue for criminalactivities? PAUL OKAH finds out in this report.

In the beginning…
Football betting pools, a cultural import from 1920s Britain, was popular among Nigeria’s elderly, retired workers, and the unemployed. Local drivers, retired construction workers, desperate breadwinners were just some of the characters who clustered around the pool houses everywhere in Nigeria. Gamblers arrived at the crack of dawn and often stayed until dark, in the hope of winning the jackpot.

To get information, bettors held crackling transistor radios to their ears: the commentary of a live game blaring into their rooms. The gamblers risked their money on their ability to forecast the results of matches played across all divisions of English, Spanish, German and other football leagues. The matches were detailed on coupon sheets. Local gamblers were wagering in football pools for decades, though racking up more losses than winnings. Indeed, most swaggerers walked away empty handed and consoled themselves in the company of friends who gathered at the pool houses to play card games, draughts, and other past time games. Promoters of these football pools were mostly Lebanese or Syrian immigrants who operated with licenses issued by the Nigerian federal government. Pool agents were the link between the promoters and bettors and were always Nigerians. Furthermore, pool betting was popularised in the post civil war era by Chief Chika Okpala aka Zebrudaya and Claudius Eke aka Jegede Shokoya in the NTA sitcom programme, The New Masquerade, as Jegede played the character of an owner of a pool house where Obi and other characters congregated to try their luck in betting.

Modern sports-betting

However, sports betting have taken a new dimension, as technological innovations are threatening the traditional pool betting known by Nigerians of the 1920s. The modern sports betting have incorporated both the old and young. For the regular sports bettor, apart from football, the games include horse racing, dog racing, virtual games, wrestling, etc.

At every turn in the country, you find people gathered in a corner, discussing either the Premier League, Champions League, La Liga, Wrestlemania, boxing and all types of sport. Attention has recently been shifted to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which kicked off on Thursday this week and will end on July 15th. With their passion for the game increasing every day, business men and women cash into the interest of sports lovers to set up sport-betting houses. Unlike the traditional pool houses of the 90s that made use of coupons, the modern betting centres make use of computers to bet, and we now have more than 70 sports betting agencies granted licenses to operate in Nigeria, including: Naijabet, Saharabet, Kingsbet, Surebet, Lionsbet, Nairabet, Accessbet, Madbet, Yangabet, Afribet and still counting.

Statistics of spending on betting

Investigations by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in 2014 revealed that at least 60 million Nigerians between 18 and 40 years of age may be spending up to N1.8 billion on sports betting daily. Dotun Ajekigbe, a sports-betting analyst, said that sport betting, though risky, was also rewarding and that about 60 million Nigerians placed bets on different matches daily across the country. He said that most unemployed youths have taken to online and other forms of sports betting to make a living. According to him, from findings this group of people stakes an average of N3, 000 daily.

“Sports-betting is gambling, not investing in bank shares. But almost everything in life is a gamble, more so with money matters. With gambling comes risks because it not 100 per cent guaranteed. However, you can dramatically reduce your risks by taking calculated risks only. When you take calculated risks, you base your decisions on sound research and evidence, not intuition. Sports-betting is by chance. The better informed the player is, the better the chance he/she has of making money,” he said.

Winning so much with little

Mr. Sunday Jimoh, a civil servant, claims that sport-betting has helped a lot of people to set up in life. “Last week Saturday, someone won N1 million with just N100 at this centre in Mpape. With that, betting has empowered the guy, who is an undergraduate. Sport-betting has a lot of advantages than disadvantages. It doesn’t require huge sum of money to partake in it’s a source of income for Nigerians who want to be independent. With one betting and winning money from it, there won’t be any thought of stealing. After winning like N500, 000 or more, you can start a legitimate business with it and be your own boss, because sports bet is registered with the federal government. Similarly, Samuel David, says some agencies pay better than the others.

“You see, apart from Nairabet, the other bets do not come with huge benefits. If your game cuts, they will remove the one that cut and the bonus and pay you the rest, which many people enjoy. As adults, our expectations are high. Once you don’t pay people in full, they get discouraged. That’s why people prefer Nairabet to other sports-betting companies. Last week Sunday, after church service, I played a game with N500 and I won the sum of N120, 000 in the same Nairabet centre here in Nyanya. There is this joy in playing the game because of the monetary value attached to it.” For Eshodi Uche, a driver with Uber, betting has brought more good than harm.

“Sports-betting is a source of living and has done more good than bad because, with betting centres around you, you can just try your luck and make big money with your predictions. You hear of people testifying how they have made it through bet. It also empowers, but this is if you are lucky enough to predict what will happen in the game. If you win millions, it will set you up for life. It also serves as a means of occupation, starting from security officers, cleaners, staff and manager.”

Betting increases passion for sports

Umar Abdulsalam, a trader, says he is an inveterate gambler, whose love for sports has led to his decision to make a living out of sports-betting. “I have been into sports betting for more than seven years now and I have benefited a lot by winning and investing money from it. It has also helped a lot of graduates who could not get befitting jobs. It’s an avenue to make money with your brain, through predictions and some people have built houses from the money. There is no job in town now, so it keeps one busy and reduces crime rate. At Sokale where I stay, they were a lot of pickpockets and cases of bag snatching at nights before, but since they now find a means of getting money, the guys have reduced stealing and instead they now think of betting. Also, it has increased love for sports, because if you don’t watch football matches you can’t predict what will happen. With the World Cup that started on Thursday, people are making money with predictions. Gone are the days where only guys sit down and watch football matches, ladies now watch and even partake in sports betting. I love sports and I get paid for my passion when I bet. Apart from that, betting centres is like a comfort zone, where most people come to sleep. Some even forget issues that are bothering them through interactions with people in betting centres.”

The ugly side of sports-betting

No matter how good it is painted, some of the “gamblers,” a name they don’t like being referred with, are, however, united in one voice: that sports-betting equally has some disadvantages; many of which are disastrous. Kingsley Madu, a primary school teacher, says that a lot is lost in sports betting.

“The disadvantage of sport gambling addiction is that some youths steal to bet and betting makes people to lose focus. Even if they are at work, their mind will still be at the betting centre. Another thing is that they over-depend and believe in this. In a nutshell, addicted youths will not hustle because of the huge benefits attached to betting. It leads to frustration in the sense that youths abandon their work place to bet. As you can see, as early as this morning, this place is already filled up with people. Some are sleeping while others are arguing. Most times, when the argument is not favoring one party, it leads to serious fight and sometimes some find themselves in the hospital. People sometimes get killed because of jealousy.”

Similarly, Ibrahim Bello, a motorcyclist, says that the disadvantages of sports betting are just too numerous to mention.

“It leads to debt because once you are addicted; you can put your last cash and even borrow to bet a game. But it’s advisable for people to limit their games and stay away from the centre when they win, but selfish Nigerians will still re-bet with the money. If you allow gambling get into you, it will affect you psychologically and you will end up doing shady things to get money. It is advisable to play online than playing local because of a case I heard. A 20 year old boy won a huge amount of money in a centre at Mararaba, but some guys ganged up and planned to steal his ticket. They told him that he would be credited that day. Unknown to them, this young man was not with his ticket, so they were angry and that was how he lost his life, but his parents were later paid his money.”

In the same vein, Tolu Michael, a tailor, agrees that sports-betting has negative effects.

“People use their life-savings to predict matches, thereby going bankrupt. Most of them even relocate to rural areas, because they have used their properties as collateral. Some youths see gambling as a way to make it in life. They wake up with negative vibes that there is no job and the only solution to their problem is to gamble. The addiction among Nigerian youths is just crazy and the disadvantages of these addictions are very obvious. Some people even steal to bet. Last week, someone was arrested here for stealing a huge amount of money from his boss to bet. Unfortunately, such people don’t even win, because their money didn’t come from the right source.”

Similarly, Rita Ndidi, a civil servant, says sports-betting causes hypertension and kills.

“It makes one to lose hope of rising again. After betting with huge amount of money and unfortunately you miss your game, your money would be gone. To recover from that shock is not an easy thing as some will start thinking about relocation or at times death. It also leads to hypertension. People think that it’s only aged or old people that can be hypertensive. A youth that is addicted to gambling also has hypertension. If he lost his game with a huge amount attached, it

might even lead to death. Another thing is laziness. The other day, President Buhari said Nigerian youths are lazy and that is the bitter truth. Youths don’t want to work, but want to make fast money without stress. This leads to high crime rate as many Nigerian youths steal to gamble. They steal phones, purse, snatch bag and even their parents or guardians’ properties to play game.”

Children betting on behalf of adults

Some children of school age are known to have been introduced to sports betting by their fathers, elder brothers or uncles. In a 9jabet centre in Karu, Abuja, a 13-year-old boy in JSS3, Muda Ibrahim, told this reporter that he was introduced to sports betting in July last year after repeatedly visiting centres to help his elder brother in checking the result of the game he played the previous day. With constant visiting, he got interested in playing the game himself; with little savings he made from running errands. Even though he loses often, Musa said he is comfortable betting everyday as soon as he gets money from any source.

“After helping my elder brother to claim some money he won, I became interested in playing too. I started betting with N100 and was losing at first, but I increased the stake when I started winning. Many of my classmates also bet and also started just like me by helping elderly ones and then having a go at it themselves,” he said.

Legality of sports-betting

The Director-General of National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), Mr. Adolphus Ekpe, has said that sports-betting is legal for people above 18 years and regulated in the country, but it could become gambling if it was not properly regulated.

“Sports-betting is an aspect of lottery. 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. When you do not regulate sports scheme in a transparent way; that is where the gambling aspect comes in. But when you regulate it in a transparent way, you now know that whatever the person is betting on some amount is coming to government. When the person wins, he is entitled to his prize, so we decided to set up a framework to regulate sports bet by making 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 and regularise it, so that they will do it in a transparent way and be accountable to the country. That is why we were established. We have identified them; some of them have even applied.’

“We created an in-house platform called the `National Lottery Regulatory Commission STRAMAP –SMS Transaction Monitoring and Archival Platform,’ to be used to monitor the activities of lottery operators, so that we will be able to know exactly what is due to government. We are working closely with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to ensure total compliance with the rules and regulations of lottery.”

Lawyers react

Speaking on the Legal Implications of Underaged Betting, Barrister Chuwang D. Gyang, a legal practitioner with Adegboye & Adegboye Chambers in Abuja, said that betting by citizens under 18 years was illegal and that culprits stand prosecutions according to the dictates of the constitution.

He said: “All over the world, betting businesses are regulated by the law. In Nigeria, the law that regulates betting is the National Lottery Act of 2005. Accordingly, Section 34 (1)(e) of the National Lottery Act makes it an offence for any person to knowingly sell to any person under the age of eighteen years any ticket in a lottery operated by a licensee. The punishment for such an office is a fine of N20, 000 or imprisonment for a term of one year. Conversely, when the offence is committed by a corporate body, a fine of not less than N100, 000 shall be imposed. In addition, each director or manager shall, on conviction of such corporate body, be subjected to a fine of N20, 000 or term of imprisonment of one year.

“However, when you go to sport betting centers, you will find secondary school students in their uniforms placing bets. It therefore means that betting companies and their staff are culpable and in clear violation of the provisions of the National Lottery Act of 2005. It is essential to point out by way of suggestion that the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), the body created by law to police lottery and betting activities in Nigeria, can do better by prosecuting betting companies selling tickets to under-age persons and also insisting that young persons be made to prove that they have attained the legal age of 18 by providing a valid means of identification such as a birth certificate or declaration of age in instances where the age of the young person is in doubt.”

Similarly, according to an Abuja-based lawyer, Henry Kelechukwu Eni-Otu, implementation of the dictates of the constitution is important but very difficult.

“Football betting has become more of a street and household venture amongst all class or grades of persons in Nigeria. The negative role of unemployment, poverty and get-rich quick syndrome of many youths cannot be over-emphasized as amongst the litany of readily provided rationale for the popularity and followership of this venture. The number of betting houses on our streets in most states of the federation outnumbers that of school and start-up business enterprises.

“Despite the penal provisions of Section 34(1)(e) of the Act, these provisions are more enforced or applied in theory than in practice, hence the nonchalant attitude of licensees in abiding and upholding the provisions of National Lottery Act particularly as it relates to sale of tickets to persons under the age of 18years. The challenge of ascertaining and proving the actual age of these persons with some certainty makes it impracticable as well as proving the frequency of their visit to such betting outlets. The National Lottery Act should be amended to be able to achieve its intended goals, though some may argue that our problem in Nigeria is the enforcement and implementation of the laws.

“Furthermore, the need for political will in the executive arm of government to revoke licenses of lottery or betting institutions which fail to adhere to the provisions of the National Lottery Act should be encouraged.”

Why sports-betting thrives

The government has made no efforts to curb sports betting activities, reasoning that they provide licensing revenue to the federal government and give hope to thousands; that their meager wages might suddenly be supplemented with a stroke of good fortune. Moreover, the recent sighting of a police man with his rifle placed on the floor at a sports-betting shop brings to mind the lack of seriousness with which government wants to tackle abnormalities in sports betting. Betting pools have very much become an integral part of the Nigerian lifestyle and economy, where there is little understanding of how addictive and corrosive gambling can be.

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