by Mazi Emeka
In our special report this week, we look at the cultural force gambling has become for a helpless citizenry…
Clean-shaven and and looking dandy, Peter* is a 28 year old security guard at a private residence, with a National Diploma (ND) from Benue State Polytechnic. And he swears he is not addicted to gambling.
“It’s something I do once in a while,” he says, rolling a betting ticket between his thumb and index fingers. “You know for luck, you never can tell when it will shine on you.”
He has just come out from a betting shop, where he had gone to wait out the last of his bets. Peter had placed a bet of N100 and had accumulated eight games (football matches with different European clubs) with the hopes of winning over N25,000. Seven of the games had come through, the eighth failed.
“Like now, I didn’t bet last week,” he continues. “But anytime I have free money I try and place a bet with it.”
Asked what he would have used the money for if he had won. Peter said he would buy a good phone so he can place his bets conveniently from his home.
He has been betting for a year now, he says, but has yet to win anything. He insists however that his day is coming – and it will come big.
For inspiration, he recounts the story of a guy he knows who made a million from a N1,000 bet and another from his state of origin who built a house from money he made from online betting.
Has he met the person though? No, he sheepishly confesses.
But he believes.
Everything good will come
But it’s Olawale’s story that’s, frankly, amusing. And instructive.
I find him standing outside a betting shop in Surulere, cigarette in hand, staring at nothing in particular. Olawale is soft-spoken, painfully shy, and unable to sustain eye contact but he is, surprisingly, forthcoming and friendly – offering to buy me a stick of cigarette while we talk.
Olawale says he had just placed a bet, which he lost. He refuses to tell me how much he staked but he shows me his betting ticket crumpled up in his hands.
This is where it gets interesting. For the past three weeks, he reveals, he has been on the streets unable to return home because he had used money intended for his brother’s school admission to gamble. He lost the game.
How he hopes to win the money back?
I speak with Emeka, a mouthy student of Abia State University, Uturu, over the phone. He tells me a story quite similar to Olawale’s.
He says he is good at predicting football matches, he reels off football statistics and current affairs to convince me.
At first, he had achieved minor betting successes and a few losses. But as he won, his appetite for risk increased, and so he plunged more money into games, placing stakes that were altogether too risky yet highly profitable.
But he kept winning, establishing himself as the go-to-guy if you needed a forecast.
“People used to pay me to write games for them,” he says.
But he soon recorded a series of losses, with one or two wins in between. Strangely, rather than decrease his betting stake or count his losses and move on, Emeka doubled his stakes on games, betting on riskier game with large sums of money and losing some more. He soon began to borrow money to fund his betting games. Now, Emeka is buried underneath a mountain of debt – with no hope of paying back.
“I’m not addicted to gambling,” he insists, “I know what I am doing. The season is about to start, I go make my money back. Watch, I go chop clean mouth.”
I do not come to you by chance
Unlike Peter and Olawale, Emeka says he personally knows people that have made, and continue to make, money through sports betting. He tells me the story of a banker, who quit his job to focus on betting as a full time job.
“I was the one that introduced him,” he brags.
People like that give Emeka hope and strengthen his faith that he, too, will – as Nigerians are wont to say – ‘blow’.
But then there is a Samuel*, a driver and videographer, who recently won N25, 000 through sports betting. Samuel says that he rarely gambles except he is sure it will be a win. He recounts how a friend had told him to play a set of games after dreaming about it.
Acting on faith, Samuel had placed the bet with N100.
“I use the money buy phone immediately before I waste am,” he said in broken English, showing me his new phone.
Samuel soon lapsed into a story of people who had become instant millionaires through gambling – though he has yet to meet any.
The last few years have seen the rise of electronic betting in Nigeria. In less than five years, electronic betting has pushed out all other forms of offline gambling to emerge as the most profitable gambling venture and the unofficial test of how lucky a person can possibly be –or not.
With the growth of online gaming, the success stories recorded (often distorted to fit popular opinion) and how easy it is to access, the spate of addiction to gambling in punters will most definitely skyrocket in proportion to the level of internet penetration in Nigeria and the growth of the gambling sector.
And, with it, of course, addiction. That in a society where addiction is stigma, people refusing to acknowledge mental health in a country where depression and addition are popular Google search terms. And one where this is neither an acknowledged challenge nor do we have any systems to help those who may need help.
But while you can certainly argue about gambling as a mere compulsion to end an anxiety, or a proof of business dexterity on the part of punters, or even proof of how knowledgeable one is about football, the truth is that it’s sweeping through Nigeria.
Adekunle Adeniji, Manager, Virtual Products at Bet9ja and owner of several betting retail shops, says that addiction to gambling is a relative term.
“I don’t know what’s addicting about gambling but you know some people place all their hopes on it, that’s the only way they can make money in life,” he defends his business. “Some people play for fun while others believe that is the only way they can make money in life.”
However, Managing Director of 1960Bet, Dotun Ajegbile, says there are mechanisms to help the addicted – or addictive.
“Your betting pattern gives you away easily” he says. “If you’re someone that come to my office and you bet N100, N200 regular, you have an account with me and we know your KYC (know your customer) and suddenly you place a bet of fifty thousand naira then we know that it’s either you’re chasing your losses or you’re getting addicted or it’s fraudulent money that you’re bringing into the system.”
What help that offers to the dwindling fortunes of Olawale, or Peter or even Emeka, he doesn’t say.
*Some names in this piece were changed at the request of the respondents