As many Nigerians resort to sports betting and other forms of betting to improve their financial status, the addiction that results from gambling further plunges them into the depth of devastation, loss, and poverty, VICTOR AYENI writes
A Lagos-based businessman, Sonny Azubuike, joined the gambling industry after he was fascinated by a betting advert he saw on a website four years ago. The prospect of winning huge amounts of money through bets placed on football teams and players seemed like a sure path to stupendous wealth. Unfortunately, his dream of vanquishing poverty remained an optical illusion like a rainbow in the sky.
With a tone of regret, 34-year-old Azubuike lamented to our correspondent how he had become so entangled with sports betting that he no longer had any significant savings.
“Betting is like my second hustle, like another source of income for me. I have won between N2m and N7m before but along the way, I just noticed that my financial spending became too much and I got to the point at which I was willing to sell anything I had because I was looking for money to place on bets.
“There was a time I purchased two cars from the money I won but I later had to sell them off because I was cash strapped. I bought one of the cars for N6m but sold it for N1.5m. I also got entangled in loans too and now my first business isn’t good again. I’ve had to sell even my air conditioner. The truth is, my life can never be the same again,” he lamented.
Gambling has existed in one form or the other, but virtual sports betting remains the most recent innovation in the larger gambling industry. Betting on soccer tends to attract more punters because it is fast-paced, more comfortable to wager on, and has the potential of being a legitimate source of income.
Interested punters would register online, go through the sports book to learn its rules and regulations, confirm their funds, and place bets on who would win a football match based on odds or a money line. However, compulsive gambling, particularly through sports betting has been found to have profound and long-lasting consequences for the lives of punters.
In the case of Biodun Adebile (not his real name), a manager in a multinational firm in Lagos, his addiction to virtual betting is no longer a secret among friends and work colleagues. Although he declined to be interviewed by our correspondent, one of his close friends revealed that Adebile’s addiction has plunged him into financial crises despite his attractive salary.
He disclosed, “My friend suffers what I would call a chronic betting addiction. This is a man that would be staking his company’s operations money on bets. The company did some auditing one month on operations funds and they realised his balance was short of over N1m.
“We all rallied around him to reduce his debt burden to N400,000 because the Internal Control and Audit was bombarding him with e-mails on how the money he was given didn’t add up. They made sure he balanced out that month and stopped giving him funds since then.
“This man would stake at least N100,000 on games and he will still not win. It has reached a point where he fritters half his salary playing betting games and he earns more than N500,000 each month. It’s an insane addiction. He has this mindset that he can gamble his way into affluence and I feel much concerned for him because, despite his salary, he wears tattered clothes to work!”
His friend, who pleaded anonymity also told our correspondent that Adebile belonged to several social media platforms where he faithfully follows predictions for soccer teams or players.
“He would often tell me, ‘The game I bet on last night will fetch me N1m!’ The next day when I ask him, he’d retort, ‘That crazy Arsenal spoilt my game. They went to score at the last minute.’ There are times he would be cash-strapped and reduced to taking loans from work colleagues to play a predicted game from Telegram. He would still lose after all.
“He has his registered accounts across different betting platforms from Bet9ja to Sportybet, BetKing and 1xBet. His inability to account for all the money he expends on gambling is what I find most disturbing.”
To stake on a team or player that would possibly win, many punters visit various soccer prediction sites that would determine the outcome of the football game before the match is played.
Our correspondent gathered that there are no fewer than 40 popular prediction websites, along with dozens of groups and individual accounts that are on Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp dedicated to posting sports predictions.
On Twitter, many punters follow social media influencers such as Akinde Bayo (popularly known as Mr Bayo) and Ogunlade Mayowa (also known as Mayor of Ekiti) for predictions that they believe are often reliable. Thus, it is often a competition whose predictions can guarantee a chance of winning.
In a Twitter exchange seen by our correspondent, a user named Fast9 complained to Mr Bayo, “I have lost much to betting. I remember December 2020 when I was close to N49.8m! I never came close again. This is the real reason I fled betting, please can you mentor me?”
In his response, Mr Bayo tweeted, “Losing is a must that’s why I advise people to stake wisely. Your chance is 5/100 that is why you should not stake overboard for you not to go bankrupt. I have never staked more than N300,000 that is after I won N31m, N15m, N25m, and N30m. What I stake on these games together didn’t reach N300,000.”
When our correspondent privately reached out to Fast9, he wrote, “Betting is not for the faint-hearted. The loss was too much.” He declined to discuss further on this. Several other punters contacted by our correspondent also abruptly refused to talk about the extent of their involvement.
This pattern of reticence was described by Emmanuel Edobong, a recovered gambling addict, as a typical form of response. In a phone interview with our correspondent, Edobong explained that many punters are often reluctant to discuss with those whom they perceive to be “outsiders.”
He said, “From my experience as a recovered addict, I can tell you why these people involved in betting or gambling refused to talk to you about it. Those involved are kind of ashamed to talk about it especially when they are on the losing side all the time.
“They are often ashamed and angry. If you try to pry into what they are into or try to get answers from them they will become aggressive towards you. Gambling alters someone’s behaviour and lifestyle and makes them spend so much time checking live scores on their phones. They also have anxiety issues about why a team is not scoring.”
Edobong narrated how he became addicted to gambling, indicating that his desire for money doubling kept him entangled in it.
“I started gambling and virtual betting in 2018. At that time I was working for my boss as an apprentice barber and he was a chronic gambler involved in various forms of betting including the Baba Ijebu one. He would send me to go and give his fellows codes to play for him and after a while, I began to follow him and got involved too.
“All through the period I gambled, I’ve won only once and that was about N8,000; it indicated how poor those predictions are and it was very discouraging. The first amount of money I lost to gambling was N80,000 in a blow and it was the rent money I was given,” he added.
Betting on ‘luck’
After purchasing a “100 per cent sure odds” for the week’s soccer game, our correspondent, posing as a punter, visited a betting shop at Berger, Lagos State.
The cashier printed him a slip and he waited for the game to follow the predicted outcome. The shop had five young men had also visited for virtual betting on that Friday afternoon and were engrossed in the game.
One of them, a graduate who hails from Edo State, Peter Adodo, denied being a gambler but admitted that he was motivated to dabble in it based on online predictions.
“I am not even into gambling, I just opened a sporty account recently because of the Mayor of Ekiti on Twitter, and anytime I just have some spare money like N500, I send it to a betting account and just try my luck with as low as N50.
“Betting is quite complex and I believe one must be strong mentally and financially to participate in it. Those who walk this path will tell you that your instinct and luck play a big role in it.
“This past weekend, I staked N100 on a bet and I was supposed to use it to win N55,000. One game just spoilt it. At one time, I was supposed to cash out N7,000 I just decided to wait till everything was over to get the 55,000 but I ended up losing it. So, I feel it’s a game of luck and nothing else,” he stated.
A 27-year-old engineer, Ezekiel Ayobami, also a moderate punter, explained that while gambling cuts across different ages and social classes, most of the punters he knows are addicted to it.
“I have a lot of friends who are into sports betting, both single guys and married men. Some are in it to elevate themselves above poverty, and some just play it for fun not minding whether they win or lose, but I will say most that I know are addicted to it.
“I once saw the betting transaction of one of my friends, and I found out he had spent up to N50,000 and N200,000. There was a week he lost N600,000 in total,” he explained.
More regulations needed
In medieval times, gambling, which was very customary in Royal Courts or village taverns often resulted in the loss of money, clothes, horses, estate, and even halves of kingdoms. This led to the passage of an anti-gambling law by the English legislative body.
In Nigeria, an institution called the National Lottery Regulatory Commission founded in 2005 regulates the sports betting industry. Established under the National Lottery Act 2005, this body sets standards for the gaming industry in the country. New customers often register their accounts with bookmakers that have been licensed by this body.
A legal practitioner in the area of corporate practices, Mr Segun Oladejo, during a phone interview with our correspondent, blamed the proliferation of gaming companies and its attendant problems on a lack of proper regulation by the Nigerian government.
He said, “Gambling is the all-encompassing word used for any form of betting. At the federal level, gambling or any form of betting is regulated by the NLRC. The commission churns out regulations that guide the sector which is based on the National Lottery Act of 2005 which has legalised lottery and some forms of gambling.
“Although the criminal code act criminalised some forms of banking, the National Lottery Act states the forms of lottery or gambling that are permitted. Procurement of a lottery licence under the commission entails an application fee of N2m and a permit fee of N1m.
“It should be noted that Lagos State is the first state that even trumped the Federal Government in regulating gambling and any form of betting in Nigeria. The proliferation of gaming companies and their attendant problems are the results of a lack of proper regulation. Just like most sectors in the country, the government only takes steps in regulating an industry majorly because of the revenue they tend to get from the sector.
“The regulators of the betting/gambling industry are only there to rake in revenues but not to ameliorate its psychological, social, and long-term effect on the masses. Apart from the government regulators, the sector itself needs to engage in self-regulation. For instance, the Association of Nigerian Bookmakers and any other body or association of betting or gambling need to come together and work with government regulators in properly managing the sector.”
Oladejo further explained that the gambling sector should identify habitual gamblers and seek ways to help them rethink their actions. “The sector can identify the habitual gamers and ban them for some period for them to have a little rest and rethink their actions. The regulators should dwell away from revenue all the time and focus on cleaning the sector/industry,” he added.
Michael Chimezie, a cashier in a betting shop, echoes a similar sentiment about sports betting. “The owners of these centres make a lot of money. I know this because I work at one and the more entangled people are, the more the gain for these owners. Many young men come here to waste thousands of naira on virtual sports and we have to monitor them otherwise there will be money shortages and we are the ones who bear the financial burden of these shortages.
“Some of these men would lose heavily the previous day and return the next day to waste more money trying to win big. I have seen family men enter here with a huge amount of money to gamble and walk away with N100.
“I have tried to advise some of them but they threatened to report me to my boss over it. I hope something can be done to change these men. I wish the government would even ban it,” he stated.
The Chief Executive Officer of Lagos State Lotteries and Gaming Authority, Bashir Are, while addressing journalists, noted that the agency expends its taxes on the environment, security and public health.
He said, “The LSLGA was established to regulate the gaming industry in Lagos State and we also pay taxes, and according to our law, gaming taxes should be spent on the environment, education, infrastructure, socials and health. We also contribute to the security in the state, the Lagos State Security Trust Fund and the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corp, so we support the government to make society better.”
On the agency’s website, it was stated that “Responsible gambling is also an integral part of the regulatory functions of LSGLA. The Authority holds all its operators to the highest operational standards towards ensuring that vulnerable and underage persons are prohibited from partaking in any gaming activity and this also involves putting in place mechanisms to address gaming or gambling addiction.”
UK, US regulations
A United Kingdom-based Development Coach, Toyyib Adelodun, decried how Nigeria has copied the model of betting from the west without adapting it to its present realities.
He explained, “Here in the UK, big corporations that own betting companies such as Entain Group which owns Ladbrokes, Coral and other games and betting firms accrued a profit after tax of $275.6m in 2021. These betting companies are not charities, the people’s addiction is their profit and this addiction will finish so many people.
“Betting here in the west is more of an entertainment thing. People bet on horse or dog races and they only utilise a small portion of their income. They don’t have the perception that a lot of your young people have in Africa thinking betting is what is going to take them out of poverty. The majority of those who bet in the UK have good jobs so they are not hoping for the bookies to take them out of the ‘trenches’ as they call it.
“Betting is one of those things that once you are addicted to it, you will be expecting it to give it what you win. In 2020, the UK banned people from using credit cards to bet because they found out that some people were taking loans with their credit cards to bet.
“On some betting apps, there is a maximum amount that you can bet per day. They had to put these strict regulations in place because if there are very low regulations in betting as we have in our country, people will do crazy things to for it.”
In the United States, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act prohibits most wagering on sporting events except in Nevada. According to Investopedia, “even if sports betting has been legalised, restrictions may still apply and can vary by states, such as limited authorised operators, few permissible bet types, and a minimum age requirement.”
Addicts need therapy
A mental health expert at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Calabar, Dr Victor Essien, said, “Nigerians who are addicted to sports betting and others have what we call in psychiatry – impulse control disorder which has the following features: growing tension, pleasure on acting, relief from the urge and finally, guilt (which may or may not arise).
“Its treatment can be divided into two types: psycho-social treatment and pharmacology (medications). The psycho-social treatment would involve sessions with a psychiatrist and we call it Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which would help the person with the gambling disorder re-orientate his faulty cognitions and conform to better socially acceptable behaviour.
“Medications would vary based on individuals and what the doctor sees when he speaks with the patient and they are only used as an adjunct to the CBT.”
Similarly, a consultant therapist, Dedoyin Ajayi, described gambling addiction as similar to drug addiction and it would require rehabilitation. “It is important to understand the fact that gambling addiction is a very intense level of addiction and it can be likened to being addicted to drugs because the part of the brain that gets dopamine from drugs is the same part of the brain that is stimulated by addiction induced by gambling.
“So, what can be done to stem the tide of this addiction is to first, create a massive social media campaign. When a lot of people are coming out to share their stories about how gambling ruined them, it is an effective way of re-conditioning the minds of those addicted to not see gambling as a way out but to see it as a way to getting hurt.
“The second thing that can be done is to effectively equip the mental health system in Nigeria such that people with gambling addictions can get mental health care at affordable rates and go through the whole rehabilitation process without having to break the bank.”
On his part, an addiction counselor, Mr David Folaranmi, stated, “Gambling addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease that is characterised by the compulsive need to engage in gambling behaviour which is making a stake with the hope of getting a higher reward.
“The best way to help any addict or anyone struggling with any form of addiction like sports betting is to renew the mind and the best way to do that is through CBT and Motivational Interviewing by a licensed professional.
“I see gambling destroying a lot of people. I work with several clients now who have ruined their own lives and are on the verge of destroying the people they love on the grounds of gambling, so it is an issue that needs to be looked at.”
Folaranmi added that the government needed to do more to provide remedies for those addicted to sports betting.
“The government has to do more. It is not enough for the government to say these centres have licences, we must remember that these businesses, as legal as they are in our country, are creating a problem for our youths, so if they are being opened at an exponential rate, what is the government doing to oversee these centres?
“The government should make provision for the fallout from this business which includes an addiction of our youths to gambling. How many treatment centres have the government established to curb the menace that is coming out from these sports betting centres? They can use the taxes taken from these centres to help youths who are addicted to gambling,” he added.