Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Soccer: Rise of the gambling generation

DAMOLA ADEOYE, writing on the rise in the wave of sports betting, explores the details behind an obsession fast creeping into the mind of the average Nigerian. Can it truly be said to be a reward for passion?
ORDINARILY, it shouldn’t have elicited any interest; neither a star game, as football die-hards are wont to say, nor had the trappings of a must-watch. The match between Dnipro and Met Donetsk was a hugely important one, not only to the players sweating it out in the cold land of Ukraine, but to about 30 or so young men seated at a popular betting centre along Poly road, Sango, Ibadan, and a handful of other betting centres scattered across the country.
Shifting edgily from side to side, the young men- this reporter inclusive, awaited the final score of the match, as it was part of a list of others many of them had staked on. For this reporter, Dnipro was expected to win. When the game finally ended in a draw, it was bad news.
That betting has become a big attraction to sport fans in Nigeria in the last three years or there about is no longer news. The only revealing thing perhaps, is that from the educated to the half-literate, fans have been staking millions of naira on matches played in different leagues across the world, with each correct prediction providing a whopping return on investment. This, to Sakiru Olatunde, a 28-year-old student of the Polytechnic Ibadan, is the real reason behind his continuous participation.
“Imagine, with just N100 and a correct prediction of 15 matches, I can earn close to N20,000. Do you think I want to stop that kind of thing?” he asked. Popular sports betting platforms currently operating in Nigeria include 9jabet, Nairabet, Merrybet, 1960bet, Fortunebet, Surebet, 360bet, Lovingbet and several others.
With the realisation that football fans that have supported their beloved clubs for free can now earn ‘cool money’ from a successful wager, sports betting has now spread like fire in the harmattan.  “In every five minutes distance, one will probably come across not less than five betting centres, especially in the big cities,” submitted Olatunde. Most football viewing centres that had previously showed matches for a fee have now caught the bug; many already converted to betting centres.
To Femi Ibikunle, an agent with 1960bet, sports’ betting is a very lucrative business as the commission itself is enough to take one home, as civil servants often say. “There are several sports one could bet on- basketball, tennis, snooker, cricket and football. One could also bet on animals—dogs’ and horses’ races are also usual bets too.” He, however, added that football was the one that drew the highest crowd of betters.
Ibikunle, who said he already had a football viewing centre before working as an agent, said he registered with the sum of N30,000 and bought a few laptops to aid the business. Since then, business has been good.

The language of betting
One very interesting thing about the language of betting is its cultural relativity. Though most betters speak pidgin which is more or less the official language of the street, the mother tongue of the better is often pre-eminent.
Hence for Yoruba betters, words like re si i which means ‘to place a bet’ is the lingua franca. When the better wins, he says mo je, the Yoruba word for ‘I’ve won’, while when he loses, with remorse and gnashing of teeth, he laments mo shan. Other words used by betters depend largely on their locale.
While the words over, under and double chance have been explained by this reporter’s ‘lecturers’, the term ‘handicap’ is one for critical analysis. It simply means that though the weaker team scores first in a game, it might end up losing. Otherwise, the stronger team may be predicted to score first and still end up losing. The odd in this case is usually higher.

How it works…
Sola Bammeke, who identified himself as an avid better, eagerly explained the process of completing a multiple bet for instance, to this reporter when they met at a bet9ja shop recently.
 “Look at the paper pasted on that wall. Consider France Ligue 1, for instance. That game between Nantes and Toulouse with Code No. 2012 will be played at 7p.m today. That 1X2 represents the two teams- 1 for Nantes and 2 for Toulouse.” Speaking further he said, “1 with the odd 2.41 means Nantes wins, X with 3.12 means the game ends in a draw and 2 with 3.07 means Toulouse wins.”
Sensing the naivety of this reporter, a man in his 50s, who declined to identify himself, joined the duo and continued the explanation. “That double chance you’re seeing means there could either be a win or a draw. A loss for the team signifies a loss for the staker. 1X with the odd 1.35 means Nantes wins or draws, 12 with the odd 1.34 means any of the teams could win, while X2 with 1.52 depicts a win or draw for Toulouse.”
Aside betting on the final score, one could also bet on the number of goals a particular match will produce. Bammeke, continuing with the ‘lecture’, said; “O/U 1.5 which has over 2 goals with 1.42 odd means the game is expected to produce more than two goals. Should it end with less than, then the bet is lost, while under 1.5 with an odd of 2.65 means the game mustn’t record up to two goals. Should that be the case, the bet is lost,” enthused Bammeke.
The elderly man snapped, saying; “that O/U 4.5 means there’ll be more than five goals or less than in the game. ‘Over five goals’ has 7.72 as its odd while ‘under five goals’ has 1.05. Any deviation from this prediction means an automatic loss of one’s bet,” the man called baba by those who know him said.
Bammeke, however, added that should one stake on the first 10 minutes of any match, one’s concern would be on that duration alone and happenings in the remaining 80 minutes or thereabout aren’t one’s business. Citing the Nantes-Toulouse game, 1X2-10 mins is a bet concerned with the first 10-minute of the game. Should one bet on 1 with 8.28 as its odd, Nantes is expected to be winning by the first 10 minutes of the game, while 2 whose odd is 9.67 implies a Toulouse win in the same duration. X with 1.13 odd is a draw.
When this reporter queried his ‘lecturers’ why the odds for ‘over five goals’ and wins for either team in the first 10 minutes were that high, baba said it was because the risk involved in their prediction is high, so “one should be rewarded well, if one is able to nick it!”
Olatunde, who later strolled over to where the trio were discussing, claimed he only staked on football as the outcome to him was natural, at least to some extent, unlike the dog or horse race that, he alleged, had been computer programmed. “As you can see yourself, many people aren’t betting on animals. The belief is that the computer determines how much a person wins,” he quipped.
When a person wins, this reporter learnt, the person is paid either by cash or through the fellow’s bank account. One has till kick-off time of any match to place one’s bet. While such bet can be placed in the offices and shops of betting agents, online betting is another option.
“Usually when you play online, your personal bank account is attached as you create an account,” volunteered Olatunde. The amount to be won, he added, is determined by the accuracy of prediction as well as the amount staked, as the actual prize money is determined by multiplying the odds with the amount staked.
Adeyemi Olagoke and Dunsin Adeuyi, both university undergraduates believed sports betting is a reward for passion. Olagoke, who claimed to have been introduced to betting by friends, said though he’d won once, he’d also lost severally. “I felt very happy when I won for the very first time, because I have lost a lot of games before eventually hitting my first jackpot. Since then, I haven’t won any.” Adeuyi, on his part, said he had just won after placing several bets. “Definitely I felt happy when I won, though the money was small, at least I got the reward for my labour. That win is the motivation to continue betting.”

Fun… business… or vice?

To Oluwagbemi Bright, an undergraduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-ife, betting could be fun. “I started betting this year. I was introduced to it by my roommates who bet a lot and have won severally. I have won once and since I haven’t won again, I’ve stopped.”
The experiences of Bammeke, Olatunde, Olagoke and other avid betters may have lent credence to a recent study conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). In the said study, about 60 million Nigerians between ages 18 to 40 are believed to be spending close to N1.8 billion on sports betting daily. The study showed they commit on average N3,000 daily.
This claim, according to Opeyemi Ogedengbe, a public affairs commentator, could be true, giving the number of youths who throng various betting centres around his Ojoo, Ibadan residence. In his view; “betting provides a sort of engagement [job] for many youths. Instead of them just loafing about, they would be at those centres where they can watch games for free and earn some cash, if they are lucky.” The claim that the betting outfits are providing opportunities for unemployed youths to earn some money was strongly supported by Ibikunle.
“I employ no fewer than five people in my shop. Imagine if every betting shop employs the same number of people, don’t you know how many that’ll translate to?” he asked.
Mr. Peter Igho, former Director-General of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) himself admitted that lottery, which sports betting is a critical part of, is helping the country solve her unemployment debacle. “Now we have staff in most of the states, to ensure our operations do not suffer. We have succeeded in creating employment for Nigerians, because in all those offices, we have a minimum of 20 employees. In the past two years, we have raised over N2 billion for the Lottery Trust Fund and that is still a drop in the ocean of what can happen,” he said then.

A global franchise

Sports betting isn’t just a Nigerian thing; it is big business globally, as Emmanuel Adeoye, deputy editor, the12thplayer, a sports blog puts it. “Betting provides additional sources of financing for many mid-table teams in England. A team like West Ham and Stoke, for instance, make money from betting proceeds.” Betting is a legitimate and organised way of making legal money. “The only thing is that government at both state and federal level should step up control so that needed revenue won’t be lost and that standards would be maintained,” he concluded.
That position is corroborated by Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila, Chief Executive Officer Lagos State Lottery Board when he spoke with newsmen recently. “The Lagos State government has been making efforts to provide an enabling environment for the lottery industry but only 40 per cent of the industry had been tapped into. We urge the federal government to create a more enabling environment for operators in the industry to increase revenue and create jobs for youths,” he said.
Since sports’ betting is a form of lottery regulated by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission, there is the belief that Nigeria could earn up to N250 billion annually if well harnessed. According to Mr. Adolphus Ekpe, Director-General of the commission, “lottery is something that can generate revenue for the government outside crude oil and other natural resources. Lottery is the next oil boom in the country. It will be very effective if Nigerians actually know how to go about it and they are not deprived the opportunity to go about it,” he said.

The odds in the ‘odds’…

Sports’ betting is loaded with risks, as this reporter himself learnt the hard way. For a multiple bet involving 15 matches, for example, all of them must be correct before one can win. Should 14 be correct and one short, then the bet is lost.
Though Olatunde admitted that he had won only once, Bammeke said he’d never got anything from his consistent betting. When asked why he’s still playing, he replied with optimism; “I’ll win one day.”
Again, baba would not tell whether or not he’s won before, though he admitted playing the game for long and didn’t see any reason he should stop now. “It’s a way of multiplying whatever money one has. That’s why I’ve been playing it.”
Adeuyi, on his own, said he didn’t count much on his bets, as he saw it purely as a game of chance. “I don’t really get hurt when I lose, though it is usually painful when a huge amount has been lost, because of one single game!” Olagoke claimed to have quit betting because he hasn’t been winning.

“Betting is abnormal behaviour”

No matter the benefits betters ascribe to their trade, many still see it as a deviation from the normal. For Rachael Thomas, a psychologist, “betting is abnormal behaviour which shouldn’t be encouraged.” “How can you put a little money in something, without having done any work so to say, and expect huge returns?” she asked. She thus opined that such behaviours, though usually began in a small way, have the tendency of transforming into addiction which might be difficult to control later. “Once behaviour becomes an addiction, then trouble looms,” she added.
Pastor Kayode Opemuyi of New Realms Church bluntly condemned betting. “A good Christian isn’t expected to place bets in whatever form.” Speaking further he said; “Christians should do legitimate work and then pray for God’s blessing. He is capable of blessing them beyond their imagination. As for betting, it’s a no!”
Like Christianity, Islam also frowns on any form of betting, since it is believed to be another name given to gambling.
Whether for or against, the consensus of opinion remains that sports betting is now a fad among Nigerians. With its attendant benefits and disadvantages, the lure of ‘cool cash’ is simply irresistible. Gone are the days when pools staking and the ubiquitous lottery popularly referred to as Baba Ijebu were the in-thing, sports betting is now in charge. For the like of Olatunde, Bammeke, Baba and many avid betters who have sworn to a life of betting, they’ll continue doing so until they strike gold. Though some have since struck gold, reaping hefty returns, many continue sowing, with no hope of harvest in sight. Many of them, especially those already addicted to it, it was  discovered, even borrowed money to stake, not minding the heavy burden of debt they had to shoulder. As for this reporter, his quest to nap N19,398.04 from N100 is story for another day. Having stayed till the late evening to see Dnipro draw Met Donetsk, which was the beginning of his bet hitting the rocks, three other games fell flat. In short, while 11 games were nice, four weren’t. Looking slyly at the bet slip and ruing the missed money, the experience of betters whose games fell short became very clear. “So this is how it feels to lose a bet?” he asked himself. Though Bammeke and Olatunde eventually comforted him, saying it was natural and that he’ll eventually strike gold one day, this reporter seems to have concluded in his heart that it is goodbye to betting!
Now that football enthusiasts have turned to betting as a reward for their passion, regulatory agencies are advised to step up control and monitoring, so that best practices would be maintained, revenue tapped and a teeming number of youths guided rightly to find solace in their new found love. If you think you’re an avid fan and yet haven’t placed a bet before, you’re probably miles behind.

—Additional report by Adeleye Ogunmosu.


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