Following the outbreak and the subsequent spread of the deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the globe, most sporting activities were suspended while others have been cancelled outrightly.
With the suspension or outright cancellation of tournaments in popular sports like football, tennis, basketball, revenue generation has naturally nose-dived for everyone involved sports at all levels and this include sports betting companies and the bettors.
According to a report on Gambling in Africa published in 2016 by KPMG on sports betting in Nigeria, it was said that Bet9ja rakes in an average monthly turnover of $10m while the second player in the industry, NairaBet makes an average turnover of $3m to $5m with a 20-30% margin on profit.
At the advent of betting in Nigeria, records have it that NairaBET was the first domestic online sports betting website in the country and opened up space for more betting companies to come on board.
At the moment, Bet9ja, BetKing, Betway, MerryBet, SureBet, GoldenBet, Bet365, Betfair, 888sport, 1XBet, Betwinner, amongst several others have a dominant presence in the country.
With the presence of these companies in the country, a report by Business Wire said the sports betting market is worth $2 billion.
It was said that Nigerians reportedly spend a whopping 730 billion ($1,991,814.42) annually — 2 billion ($5,457.03) daily to bet.
Prior to the pandemic, it was widely reported how some Nigerians won huge sums of money.
In Benue, a 17-year boy was said to have won 43 million Naira on Bet9ja. There is also a story of Saheed Oniloyi and Olashile Ali who won together an overall sum of N8 million with a N400 stake.
Arinze Cosmas Ezeanyanwu who worked as a truck pusher was reported to have won about 36 million Naira in 2017.
However, not all the winners were lucky to enjoy their winnings as several reports have it that some were even murdered by friends in a bid to steal their winnings.
In 2018, Joseph Vincent Achuku was murdered after winning about N7 million as his lifeless body was found in Lafia, lying on the road near the Federal University.
The family had claimed he was killed by friends who were trying to demand a part of the prize money in exchange for his safety and life.
It has been a mixture of the good and the ugly for sports bettors. However, the last few weeks have not been entirely good news to the companies as well as the bettors as revenues are said to have either disappeared completely or dropped drastically due to the pandemic.
As a business model, they work with sporting calendars and as such have on-peak and off-periods during the year.
It is important to reiterate here that football remains the major sport bettors lay stake on and these companies make huge money during the seasons but that has suddenly changed with the coronavirus pandemic which necessitated the suspension of all leagues.
Normally during off-seasons, these companies market other packages to remain in business, knowing that activity will pick up again in three months when football seasons resume.
On March 23, 2020, a member of the House of Representatives and founder of the betting company, NairaBET, Akin Alabi admitted that sports betting was one of the worst-hit since the virus outbreak.
“A business that has been badly hit by this shutdown is the sports betting business. No sports. No deposits. No income. Yes, there are virtual sports but it’s only consolation. I know some companies will have to send staff on unpaid leave very soon,” Alabi wrote on Twitter.
Trust Sports went to some betting shops to get their thoughts on the suspension of sporting activities and the effect of the pandemic on their businesses.
Speaking with a Bet9ja shop owner, ‘Emma Japan’ as he wished to be called said since the lockdown, he has not opened his shop for business.
“Since the lockdown, I have not opened my shop as there are no leagues currently on. I am only surviving on the money I have saved over time and I hope this coronavirus is stopped within the shortest time possible,” he said.
He further stated that he doesn’t believe in playing virtual games as it’s a game of luck.
According to a bettor who simply gave his name as Charles, he has stayed of betting since there are no ‘sure games’ to play again.
“Ever since this coronavirus came in and football league were suspended, I have not staked a game. I don’t go to betting shops as I bet on my phone since I have access to the internet.
“Before the suspension, I was making between N5000 and N12,000 weekly which I use for my feeding, transportation and other things.
“But no there are no sure games to play and I don’t play virtual games. There are too risky and not certain of winning,” he said.
Another bettor who declined to give his name said he uses his winnings as additional income to take care of his family.
“I’m a civil servant and betting is like a promo to me. I see it as a bonus which I add to my salary. Before the lock down, I won N191,600 which I invested in a business and I am getting my returns from it every week,” he said.
He further stated that betting is like robbing Peter to pay Paul but it helps Nigerians to enjoy life a bit.
“I sometimes use N200 to win N8000. I know of someone who staked N100 to win N845,000. This, however, boils down to luck. We have seen very small boys winning millions of naira. But with this lockdown and coronavirus issue, I have not been able to play and win some quick money which I use to settle urgent needs,” he concluded.
Another punter who reluctantly gave his name as Femi Johnson also said he once sold his phone to bet but still lost.
“It was a ‘sure game’ but my ticket still cut. These betting companies have ripped us off our money but we still play. When you win some game, there is always that tendency to always go back and play more games with the earlier winnings. Most times, the winnings are staked and they disappear,” he said.
He also said a friend of his, Sunny staked N150 he collected from his girlfriend to win a whopping N7.1m.
“Sunny won N7.1m and disappeared for about two weeks. By the time, he returned, he bought cars for himself and younger brother. He gave his girlfriend N800,000.
“He didn’t invest the money despite our advice to him. We told him to get a farm and import foodstuff from Benue which is the food basket of the nation but he didn’t listen.
“There was another opportunity for him to become a landlord as someone in his neighourhood wanted to sell his 1-bedroom flat for N800,000 but Sunny had other plans. Now, he is back to square one,” he noted.
With the coronavirus pandemic yet to abate, there are fears by the bettors that all their savings could finish and the betting odds will be reduced drastically whenever the various leagues resume.
However, first things first, it may be too early for bettors to begin to worry about odds as nobody can say for sure how soon the pandemic will release its venomous grip on the world.