Barely five years old in Nigeria, sports betting is a one-step innovation from the old pool stake-and-win game. ABDULRAZAQ PEDRO reports that over 60 million Nigerians are locked in the frenzy weekly while the betting companies rake in some N1.8 billion annually. No doubt, the business is building up to hit the roof in the years ahead to – believe it or not – a N100 billion venture.
New age football betting is an innovation that started in Nigeria about five years ago. Like an extension of the football supporters club, the sport found ready market in the teeming millions of football fans who argue the game daily at the newsstands, offices, beer parlours, eateries and so on. It is estimated that over 60 million Nigerians bet every week; as at December 2014, records show that betting companies made ₦1.8 billion from betting activities.
Not resting on its phenomenal success, betting companies have found new ways of making even more money with the introduction of ‘virtual games’ and online betting. A regular better and student of the University of Abeokuta, Mr. Kehinde Olewe explains the dynamics to our correspondent.
“Virtual games are like synchronization of real life sports .There are three basic categories: virtual dogs, virtual racing and virtual football. Unlike betting on real games and waiting for hours to get the results, virtual games are decided quickly, betting decisions are made faster and if you are on a roll, you make a lot of money.”
Virtual games can be seen on plasma TV screens at betting shops where betters gather in front, urging the team or animal they bet on towards victory, like Roman spectators in a coliseum urging their favorite gladiator to go in for the kill.
The popularity of the activity is increasing as football enthusiasts are getting aware of it because it creates an avenue for Nigerians young and old to improve their standard of living. Tunde Orisanmi is one of the millions of young male Nigerians who hope for a windfall in the football betting game.
“I have been playing for almost a year now and I can tell you that it is very rewarding. I was introduced to it by a friend I ran into at a popular viewing center in my area. As for winning, I have won six times since I started, and my highest win was N65,000. I know I will improve my winnings with time.”
Explaining his passion for the game, Orisanmi said it is a comfortable way to make easy money.
“It’s a less risky way of making money and it is legal; no police will come and raid the centres as they do at some cyber cafes or other questionable businesses.”
Daily Times observed that players of the game are required to predict the winner of their chosen game before placing their bet.
Our correspondent found one Bolaji Adeyemi staring at the papers pasted on the board in a hot and stuffy shop. His had some sheets of papers in one hand and a biro in another; occasionally he would use one finger to convince himself that he is writing down the correct set of codes.
Satisfied at last, he went over to the counter and handed them over to the betting agent. He spoke with our correspondent outside the centre:
“I play with 100 naira everyday and I hope one day I will win real bit money. People win a lot of money all the time and that is why I play the betting game. And because I am a football fan and analyst, I find it is easy to predict games.”
Daily Times investigation revealed the reason for the popularity of the game.
“Players find it easier to understand as football is Nigeria’s national sport,” Odinaka Agbim, an agent of one of the betting companies said.
Agbim who owns a shop at Adura bus stop along the Lagos Abeokuta Expressway explained that people rarely bet on other sports apart from football.
“Football is easy to watch and understand, other sports get little coverage compared to football because if you look at the leagues in Europe, they are readily available on satellite television. Nigerians have an insatiable appetite for football, especially the English premier league. They are willing to spend any amount to watch football and football betting has created an avenue for them to win money while watching the sport, so they must win.”
Mr. Uche Kelechi is the owner of Merrybet shop at Kola bus stop also along the Lagos Abeokuta expressway. He told our correspondent the game is quite simple to understand.
“Each game is given a betting code of three or sometimes four numbers. The game has odds for each team, depending on how good they are. The odds are represented by decimals with the numbers 1 and 2 assigned to the respective teams. For example, if Arsenal and Chelsea are to play and a person wants to stake on either, the person simply picks 1 for an Arsenal win and 2 for a Chelsea win depending on what the person prefers.
“If the better is not sure, he can decide to bet both ways; this is represented by 12. Also, the better can decide to play that Arsenal the home team either wins or draws, this is represented by 1x or that Chelsea wins or draws which is represented by x2. These are the basics of the game.”
The online betting is accessible from any location without necessarily visiting a betting shop. Daniel Oyewunmi is a regular player online. He is excited at the game.
“It’s absolutely fantastic; it gives me an opportunity to play from the comfort of my room with my phone. It is easy to create, you just to open an account with any betting company; the next thing is to fund the account and I do mine through my ATM card.”
Daily Times also found that a better can register at a betting shop and be paying through his user name recognised on the company website.
When an individual wins online, the money is transferred to the individual’s bank account. The money won online takes 3 days to be transferred to a winners account.
Mayowa Ogunlaye, a regular player on the betting platform of 1960bet found a disadvantage with the online platform.
“There was a time I played a couple of games online and won a large amount of money. I transferred it into my account in the hope that in the next 3 days the money would be deposited into my account but it was not done. I had to call the customer care line after one week had passed. They told me they were having issues with online payment and they were working on it. I later got to know from one of their betting agents that they were still sorting out winnings dating back a month. They later paid me after 5 weeks.”
Our investigation also uncovered underage stakers in the betting game. Although the game is legally open to people above the age of 18 in Nigeria, several underage boys are known to play the game on daily basis. Ahmed Ayuba, a 15 year JS2 student is one of them. He spoke to our correspondent.
“I was introduced to it by a friend. I play once a week and I choose Friday, Saturday and Sunday games all in one ticket. So far I have won ₦2500 only once.”
Betting agents have defended this by saying that underage boys are allowed to play because the shop need to generate revenue. Mr. Adeola Gbenga, a betting agent admitted that though most agents do not really condone it, “but if you look at it from the angle that the location of some betting shops are remote and there are not many customers patronising us, compared to a place like Ikeja, we have to stake for any one that comes to us to play, provided the person pays.”
Despite the concerns, football betting is forging on and making billions with analysts predicting that it’s going to be a trillion Naira business in the foreseeable future where the disadvantages will be overruled by multiple advantages.
Even the disapproval of religious bodies against the game will be reduced to the barest minimum as people realise the economic potentials, but it is pertinent that government checks against encouraging underage betters. Agents and all stakeholders should come up with a formula to discourage school kids from forming the habit before adulthood.