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3 Jul 2016

Benue People's sports betting culture

Benjamin Idoko and Amos Abba x-ray the unprecedented craze and passion for sports betting currently pervading the north central state of Benue and indeed Nigeria, as well as the implications
FOR sixteen year-old  Terkula Terfa, a primary six pupil of Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) Primary School,  Gboko, an urban settlement in Benue State, his best hopes of attaining success lies not in education  but in sheer luck.
Wearing a dampened countenance that contrasts with his humorous demeanor, he looks out of place as he sits on a wooden bench, looking out into the busy street. Barely 72 hours earlier, he had illegally purchased a sports betting ticket from one of the online sports betting offices in Gboko.
Despite claims by sports betting companies that only punters 18 years old and above are allowed to stake games; this is far from the truth, as there is hardly any procedural mechanism in place to cross-examine their ages.
Terfa staked N100 for twenty football matches being played across Europe and Asia that week. He had a quiet desperation to know the result of his predictions, which could earn him enough cash to live on for some time, should his predictions turn out right. Disappointment overwhelmed him when his prediction of one of the matches failed. That singular loss caused him great pain.
When he spoke with these reporters, he explained the reason behind his self-induced gambling habit in the local pidgin parlance: “My need for money makes me stake games. My father who is a bricklayer is aging and my mother’s burukutu (locally made beer) business is no longer as profitable as it used to be. It cannot cater for my own needs, not to talk of our entire family. The highest winnings I have made so far is just N1720,” he said.
Explaining further, he said: “I started sports betting to help my family and provide for my upkeep.  I am not happy that I’m indulging in such a habit as a mere primary six pupil, but paying my school feels and buying textbooks has been an issue for my parents. I am tired of having to stay in and out of school,” he lamented.
In recent years,  there have been an upsurge in the patronage of sports betting in Nigeria among enthusiasts and youths, especially young adults. It is unsurprising for young adults, even teenagers to earn a living or secure a source of livelihood in a nation of strivers like Nigeria but must the luck-driven industry take the centre stage?
Kolawole Ola, a three hundred level student of Physiology at Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma, Edo state started showing interests in sports betting in a bid to supplement the pocket money he gets from his benefactor (his uncle). Little did he know that he would soon get addicted, to the extent of staking his school fees.
He recounted his ordeals; “I started initially by placing bets on games my instincts were very sure of the outcome. My highest winnings was about N125,000 when I staked about N2,000. Thereafter, I continued staking games with greater hope, but I wasn’t winning any reasonable amount until I began staking, using money from my school fees. I knew of course that I had made a big mistake. I had to lie to my uncle to get extra cash to complete my fees and also borrow from some of my friends.”
Sports betting form about 70% of the gaming industry in Nigeria. Gaming is a generic name for other areas like lotteries, casinos, pokers, amongst others. Sports betting does not exist in isolation but is anchored on sporting and entertainment activities. With football having garnered huge clubsides’ followership in Nigeria, it is unsurprising to see football fans brandishing betting “tickets” when watching football games at viewing centers. Popular sports betting companies include bet9ja, Nairabet, Surebet, Betcolony, Sahara bet, bet365, ParknBet, Winasbet, bet365naija amongst others.
It involves punters predicting the outcome of football matches or other options associated with the game of their choice and if the result corresponds with their prediction after staking certain amounts of money, then their predictions are rewarded with stipulated earnings.
With football fans having discovered that watching football matches as a leisurely pastime is also lucrative, new doors of opportunities seem to have literally opened up. Inevitably, the situation has also transformed the business landscape for sports betting companies.
New money-spinning industry
The unprecedented craving for sports betting amongst Nigerians can be linked to the possibility of raking thousands of naira by staking games with  amounts as little as N100 & above. This has provided enough motivation for punters across the country to bet on a daily basis, with sport betting companies posting impressive profit as a result.
In a recent study carried out by PriceWaterHouse Coopers, a consultancy company, it is estimated that the sports betting industry is currently worth about $65 million and would have risen to $117 million by 2017. For the period of forecast, it’s expected that revenue would expand at a projected 10 percent compound annual rate by $60 million in 2018. With an access to the internet, sports betting companies and punters are always online, checking out match codes to stake games and also to know their fate via the outcome of their predictions.
For Olukayode Mosuro, who is the manager of bet9ja Gkoko main office, he views sports betting as his financial lifeline. Trained as an Electronics and Computer Engineer from the Lagos State University, he naturally sought for a white collar job after graduation. With nothing worthwhile coming out of his various business experiments, Mosuro struck the proverbial pot of gold with the sports betting industry in November 2015, when he moved in from Lagos to Gboko to establish the business.
He said; “I currently have thirty four people working for me. Sports betting actually gave me a chance to become self-employed since November, 2015 when I moved to Gboko.”
One of Olukayode’s betting shop patrons, Elijah Agada, a 200 Level Chemistry Education student of the University of Agriculture, Markurdi said that he knows people who have been making money from sports betting.
“Initially, I thought it was one of those gimmicks used by gaming-savvy companies to lure people to betting. When I found out that some of my friends were making easy cash from betting, I had to grab my own share and that is why I am into it now”, he added.
The ardent belief of punters to get lucky someday as they hedge their bets and wait for their aspirations of winning big cannot be indelibly separated from greed.
Another Gboko resident, Anthony Ideha disclosed that he won N5300 the first time he placed a bet on some football matches.
“I thought it would continue like that but there was a slow pace to my new luck. I have not won anything in a long while. Most times, the mistake is just one match wrongly predicted on my ticket.  My business crashed because I used my capital to stake matches and never won anything,” he submitted.
In an attitude of stubborn optimism which resonates with most sports lovers, Anthony is optimistic of a big win any time soon, as he announced that sports betting is like a daily contribution.
“ I will certainly get my returns in a big way on a day of reckoning”, he said.
An expert Psychologist and lecturer at the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Dr.(Mrs.) Ooga Amali pointed to the focal point behind the increased mass appeal of youths to get involved in sports betting. She affirmed  that the economic hardship currently being experienced in the country has made most people, especially youths to become prone to exploring diverse means of making money.
“There is a general believe that when you take risks by betting, you may be lucky and when you’re lucky, you are happy”.
Explaining the adverse effect of sports betting, she said, “Sports betting is like two sides of  a coin; just as alcohol. Betting can be very addictive and when you are addicted, whether you have the means or not to bet, you are likely to do anything to just bet. There are instances, where people have staked their assets and source of livelihood, which has led to indebtedness, destroyed marriages and battered lives,” she added.
This is however not to say that betting companies do not record their own share of losses. Sylvester Akuva, an agent of a leading sports betting company had a sour experience when a cashier mistakenly printed three tickets for a punter and the predictions turned out right. The agent had no excuse than to pay the punter his total winnings/returns for the three tickets which amounted to N60,000.
“It was really a bad day for me because of my cashier’s mistake. I was compelled to pay this punter his N60,000, which the bet company will not deposit into my account.” He lamented.
Moral implications
John Maxwell, an artisan, sees sports betting and staking for matches as any other viable legal businesses. He said: “Sports betting and staking for matches are not different from doing legitimate business, which involves risk. Sometimes you lose and sometimes you win. I don’t see anything wrong with people staking for football matches but personally, I am not involved in sports betting.”
Dr (Mrs) Ooga Amali decried the attitude of parents towards teenagers’ involvement in sports betting, to forestall a morally bankrupt generation.
“Parents are so pre-occupied with money that they don’t provide adequate and proper supervision of their children’s activities. If teenagers get into sports betting at their tender age, what would be the hope of instilling the values of hard work and ethics of reward of labour in them?” She questioned.
“Parents should rise up to their responsibilities and nip this ugly trend in their homes before it condemns our youths into a black hole of moral bankruptcy.” She concluded.

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