Unregulated Goldmine

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A betting operator in Abuja

Sport betting is steadily becoming a goldmine where operators and betters make quick money by betting but the government loses revenue because the National Lottery Regulatory Commission can’t regulate the activities of the operators owing to weak laws

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Aug. 11, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

MOSES Ilah, a resident of Abuja, is a die-hard supporter of Arsenal Football Club. He was a very happy man on Saturday May 17, 2014 because the club had just ended a nine year trophy drought by winning the 2014 edition of the English football association, FA, cup. As the Arsenal players and supporters cavorted in and around the Wembley stadium where the match was played, Ilah was also getting hugs and hails from his friends at a viewing centre in Abuja where he watched the match.

Although he was not one of the players in faraway London, Ilah’s faith in his team was well rewarded and he smiled home with about fifty thousand naira which he won from an online betting competition. As Ilah was celebrating, another supporter who was identified as Monday was sulking. In the same online betting competition where Ilah won, he had predicted that Arsenal would lose the match. It finally dawned on him that he had lost about two thousand naira that day when the referee blew the final whistle to signal the end of the match. Ilah and Monday represent a fraction of the thousands of Nigerian youths who are gradually becoming addicted to sport betting.

Lotto agents waiting for stakers
Lotto agents waiting for stakers

From Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and other major cities across the country, sport betting is steadily gaining popularity among youths. At home, at work places, in sport viewing centres, bus parks and other places, football dominates discussions among young people. It is not uncommon to see colleagues throwing banters about their favourite teams on a Monday morning after a weekend of matches. It is also common to see supporters of various teams arguing and boasting about their teams when an important match is approaching.

But these days, arguments and banters are not enough. Fanatical supporters put their money where their mouths are by placing bets on their teams. Sport betting is simply a game of prediction. A supporter predicts the outcome of a match and if his prediction comes true, he gets a certain amount of money depending on how much he played with.

It may appear as small business to the uninitiated but those who know it are aware that it is a money-spinning venture from which some companies rake in hundreds of thousands every day especially during football seasons.

In Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja, for instance, there are as much as six betting companies operating on a daily basis. People of various ages throng these companies anytime there is a football match to make predictions. They come out smiling and holding a piece of paper which contains their predictions, amounts staked and, most importantly, their expected winnings.

Findings reveal that it is the expectation of wining big that lures many people into taking the bets. With as low as fifty naira, a supporter can win as much as fifty thousand naira depending on the number of people who made the same prediction. Those who take the bets have to predict the outcome of matches to be played in various countries that day. The options are usually a direct win, a scoring draw and a loss for a certain team.

Yusuf Yero, a regular player of Nairabet, one of the popular betting sites in Abuja, said even though it appears like gambling, betting on a team is not the same as gambling. “What we are doing is not gambling. We are supporting our teams and getting rewards for that so we are not gamblers”, he said.

Another frequent player who gave his name as Kehinde, said even though the chances of winning big were very slim; many of those who take the bets do so for the fun of it. “The highest amount I have won is eight thousand naira and I am sure I have invested more than that because I have been playing for long. Although some people have won bigger amounts,  it is very difficult to bet and win.  Many of us just do it to support our teams.

Moses Ilah
Ilah

Corroborating that viewpoint, Pascal Ibe, who was introduced to the game by his colleague, says he does it for fun but still hopes to win substantially even though he has never won. “I have been betting since April 2013 but I have not won anything. I know one day I will catch them with all the money they have collected from me,” he said.

Notwithstanding the slim chances the betters have of winning, many betting companies encourage people to play by reeling out a litany of statistics that would convince the would-be player that he has a good chance of winning. For instance, in the FA cup final which Arsenal won, those who predicted an Arsenal defeat relied on some scary statistics. From those statistics, it was hard to believe that a team that had not won a trophy for nine years would come out victorious on the day.

As various sport betting companies continue to spring up and raking in large amounts in various parts of the country, the national lottery regulatory commission, NLRC, is having a hard time regulating their activities. Under the lottery Act of 2005, such companies are supposed to remit a certain amount of their earnings to the federal government through a trust fund. But because the regulatory agency is also handicapped, it is difficult to enforce the law.

In a recent interview, Rekiya Atta, NLRC’s head of media, said the commission is handicapped by weak laws which make it difficult to regulate the activities of the operators of  sport betting companies . “Before you can approach any organisation and say what you are doing is right or wrong, you would agree with me that you need the backing of the law. But when you do not have a law backing you, no matter how interested you are in sorting it; it becomes an issue that sometimes involves litigation and the use of court.”

Atta said the commission was trying to amend its laws to make it easier to bring defaulters of the lottery Act to book. “We are looking at the possibility of amending the law at some point, to see how we can push it through advocacy level. The director-general, since he came on board, has been very serious in trying to do something about other gaps (too) in the law that do not enable us to function fully when we want to.”

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