Gambling is a steadily rising trend across Nigeria, especially among the youth. At a relaxation spot in Wuse, Abuja, a sign reading ‘BetNaija’ points to a football viewing and betting centre. Inside, young men sprawled on sofas or standing watch a football match on large TV screens.
Behind the televisions, another group stand before a counter with multiple computers. They are busy. Some stare at a list showing football clubs across the world, others look at a list of football matches to be played. From time to time, they yell out a name to those sitting on the other side of the counter. These are the operators who play whatever team or club their customers choose to bet for or against.
At other times, customers consult a piece of paper with a code. Their expressions are serious. They could either win or lose.
“You have to come with a code,” a girl said to a new customer in a betting centre. “When you come with it, I can then play whatever you want for you.”
In Utako, Olalekan, who works for a corporate company hasn’t been gambling for long. When he saw a friend play, curiosity got the better of him. After the friend explained how it works to Olalekan, he soon began to bet too.
“I’m naturally a risk taker,” Olalekan said and added that from the onset it wasn’t about the money but the thrill of monitoring the game. “When I don’t put my mind in the money is when I win,” he said, and admits that his habit of betting is getting stronger.
A manager of a betting shop in Wuse who craved anonymity explained that on their website they advise people not to allow gambling take over their lives. “It’s for you to use your spare money and not your hard-earned savings to predict and win,” he said.
“Our betting shop is a registered platform under the Nigerian Lottery Commission, and it is advised that players should be up to age 18 and above.”
The manager further added that people from all walks of life bet at his shop. “They may be educated, uneducated, rich, middle class, or poor,” he said, and recalled how someone won ten million naira by putting in only ten thousand naira. Another time, a man won five thousand naira after betting with a hundred naira.
He pointed out that BetNaija is a gaming platform with different types of games, but people prefer betting on football matches.
But what if they lose?
“As gamblers, one thing those who patronise us understand is that it’s a fifty-fifty affair. It’s either they win or they lose. So, they rarely get disappointed because they already know how the game is played,” the manager said.
He added that the difference between playing on ones personal computer at home and at a centre is that you see the person you are doing business with and sometimes you can consult.
“When one wins above N200, 000 in a standard shop, it’s a matter of twenty-four hours and you get paid,” the manager explained. “At a standard shop, the owner can pay some winnings without waiting for BetNaija to send the money.”
There are many betting sites online. Some of the popular ones include BetNaija, Naira Bet, Merry Bet, Winners Golden Bet, Lions Bet, Access Bet, Naija Bet, Sure Bet 247, Bet Dey, Mars Leisure, among others.
Every player visiting a betting shop needs to first get a betting code before they can play. They do this by logging into any betting site they prefer.
On BetNaija, for example, which is arguably one of the most popular in Nigeria, there are a whole lot of sporting events to choose from. It could be soccer, baseball, rugby, boxing, cricket, golf and many others. It could also be politics. However, Bobby Daniel said the most popular sport people prefer to place a bet on is football.
But what has led to the rise in the trend?
A promoter of sports betting business in Kaduna, Mr. John Bala identified frustration and poverty as the major factors, and described betting as the only hope for the common man, because of the high level of joblessness in the country. Aside this is also the interest and passion for football, which fuels the desire to gamble.
Bala narrated that a youth who won over N3million through betting in Kaduna, about three years ago, said that his life would have remained the same if he had not won that money. With the money, he was able to build a small house for himself, complete his tertiary education and then set up a business, which is sustaining him and his siblings.
In Kano, betting has become more popular, especially in Sabon Gari and Badawa areas, where different classes of people are involved. Gradually, scammers took advantage of the situation which led to the closure of many betting shops.
A player known as Hassan Juicy, who claimed to have won money on several occasions, said most people liked the fact that it was a means to make easy money. He pointed out that the major betting houses are Naija Bet, Baba Ijebu and BetNaija.
In Lagos State, the lottery board has licensed 18 online betting companies, including Naira Bet, Sure Bet247, BetNaija, 1960 Bet, Winners Golden Bet, amongst others. On the other hand, a temporary license was given to 12 companies, including Bet King, Fortune Bet, Go Games and many others, while a total of 14 companies were suspended between 2015 till date, by the board. Asides that, 16 pool betting centres have been licenced by the government and only three pool bet operators have been suspended.
A youth leader in Shogunle, Oshodi, Mr. Yusuf Okewale, pointed out that the increasing number of betting shops in Lagos calls for concern as some streets have up to three different online and pool betting outlets. He linked the situation to poor family foundations and upbringing, and lack of social intervention by the government, which has led many to abandon skills acquisition for betting.
“People prefer to open betting shops, rather than a clothing or provision store, because the return is high,” Okewale said. He added that government is not helping matters. Unemployment rate remains high, and this has forced many people to take alternative routes.
Okewale, who is leader of Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) said, “Now, people bet in order to plan for naming ceremonies, weddings, birthdays and even burial. Once they win big, they spend lavishly at the occasion.”
At the popular Ijora underbridge in Lagos, young men, many of whom are public bus drivers, conductors, tricycle and motorcycle operators, gather around five different lottery operators within the vicinity. One of the gamblers, Adigun Emmanuel, said he plays the game because it offers him extra income beyond his bus conducting earnings.
“I like to play because I don’t need to invest so much,” Emmanuel said. “With N300, I can play three or sometimes six different games, with different Lotto brands, depending on the amount I wish to commit. Though sometimes I lose, but when I win, I celebrate it big time. I don’t see myself stop playing lottery any time soon.”
Emmanuel, who is the proprietor of The Hocks Pool Betting in Port Harcourt, said those involved in pool gambling are mainly youths between the ages of 20 and 25.
A sociologist, Bilar Luka, pointed out that when people talk about how much they have made on a bet, it encourages others. This eventually affects their social lifestyle, and they find it difficult to do any other thing for money. “Some do whatever it takes to get money for gambling, and this may lead to fraud.” However, Luka added that the positive aspect is that “it makes one sharp in decision-making because they have to predict in order to bet.”
Ustaz Maisuna Yahya said he noticed the trend recently, and learned it is called game of chance. “Islam frowns at it because of its peculiar disadvantages and side effect in the society. According to the Qur’an, there are four things mentioned as the ancestral work of the devil, and gambling is one of them.”
One of the devastating effects, Yahya explained, is that if a married person is involved, that person would not go home on time again and would go bankrupt someday. Also, he will become an irresponsible man.
“Let’s assume that person wins, he is like a pen robber who has stolen other people’s property. Also, if the person is a bachelor or spinster, that means if care is not taken, that person may steal a friend’s money or join a gang,” he said. “The Qur’an says, in his country or town, if care is not taken, poverty will overwhelm him. According to Q5:90, it distracts the attention of the player of the game from spiritual participation.”
But Rev Fr. Godswill Abagwa said that from the Catholic perspective, betting is not immoral. “There are conditions stated by the Catholic Church. One is that the money or property should not be what one should use to support his or her family, or for just obligations. For example, using finance meant for treating a family member in the hospital. If so is the case, it becomes immoral,” he said.
Abagwa added: “You also cannot be betting with a million naira when people around you are going hungry. Therefore, what is just or unjust depends on the circumstance. Also, the betting has to be fair. Generally, people don’t like betting because it is addictive. Betting is not wrong, but doing it excessively is.”
However, Pastor Raphael Olugbenga Olumodeji explained that in gambling, while a person smiles, another cries. “When you invest an amount and lose it, so many people suffer as a result. If that person is married, that means the wife and the children would be affected,” he said, stressing that people have committed suicide for losing.
Olugbenga further said that the quest to acquire quick money is always propelled by laziness. “The Bible in Jeremiah 17V11, says ‘Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay, are those who gain riches by unjust means. When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them, and in the end, they will prove to be fools.’ This means that when you get wealth or money without labouring for it, you will lose it eventually.
“I once read an article about American gambling. A minister of God said he took a census that showed most people who got easy money lost it. That could apply to people that gamble. Some of them, when they get such money, waste it. What you have not laboured for cannot tarry. That is what Jeremiah 11 says to us. It can’t last.
“Proverbs 13 verse 11 says wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished, but you that gather by labour shall increase. We labour to get wealth not gamble because God will always bless the fruit of our labour.”