Undaunted by religious concerns and social rejection, patrons and agents of sports betting organisations are raking in proceeds through winnings and commissions.
Excitement reflected in his voice as he recounted what he has earned so far. For Kunle Matthew, a resident of Ibadan, who is fondly called Mr Predict by his friends, the English Premier League, EPL, 2014/2015, is another season to rake in money. “As at the fourth week of the EPL, if I should deduct my stake from the money I have made, it would be nothing less than N1.2 million. I also have a friend who started playing in the third week of the league when he got to know how much I had made. He has also won a lot of money, although I cannot state the exact amount he has made,” Matthew said, beaming with smiles.
Even though sports betting is an additional stream of income to his flat timber business, Matthew maintains multiple accounts with different betting websites. “I have three accounts with different sports betting sites,” he said, adding that he also plays offline in betting shops occasionally. Emeka Julius, a bricklayer, also admitted having won up to N1 million within a period of three months he started placing stakes in sports betting. Success in winning, according to Julius, lies in following some analysts who predict accurately most of the time. “We regard those who predict the outcome of the games as demigods. They know a lot about the trends of sports and they get paid for consultancy and predictions,” Julius said as he tucked the money he won that afternoon into his pocket.
Sport betting has become one of the major income earners and employers of labour for many Nigerians in recent times. In some parts of the country people are setting up offices as agents to sports betting companies. Others are placing stakes on different sports that later yield returns. Since it was introduced in Nigeria about three years ago, sports betting has been identified as a means of income for many people between the ages of 18 and 55. It is also estimated, according to a survey carried out by the News Agency of Nigeria, that people spend close to N2 billion on sports betting daily. This is even made easier as betting websites are accessible for 24 hours in a day and seven days a week, making it possible for those who own online betting accounts to play at their convenience.
Explaining how the games are won, Tajudeen Salam, an agent to Betcolony, a betting website, said people can place single bet or accumulated bet. A single bet implies that somebody bets for a single platform while an accumulated one means placing series of bets. On the betting websites, a bettor can stake on a club to win, that a particular person would score, or certain number of goals would be scored within a given period amongst other predictions.
There are different odds for different categories of prediction. An odd is the percentage given to each game by the bookie with regards to its strength. How high the odds for the goals range depends largely on the nature of the leagues. To calculate winnings, the odds are multiplied by the amount staked, so a bettor can stake as much as he likes, starting from N100. A patron who likes to register online gets a username after registration and can fund the account through the use of automated teller machine, ATM card or through other means of transfer. The funding is done by buying account recharge personal identification numbers ranging from N1,000 upwards. Some of the bookies, a term used for the betting websites, encourage online account holders by rewarding them with 100 per cent bonus on first deposit. Those who own accounts have an edge, as they can play any time, any day with a stake as low as N30. On the other hand, they can also fund accounts through agents and money won is usually deposited in the betting account and can be transferred into personal bank accounts.
The bookies, which include different betting websites, like Nairabet, Merrybet, Surebet, 1960bet, Betcolony, and Goldenbets, to mention a few, have hundred of shops springing up by the day across the country as patronage increases. And in each of these shops, a minimum of two persons are employed. On these platforms, patrons place stakes on different sports like tennis, swimming, dog racing, horse racing and other sports with over a hundred competitions daily. However, Nigerians who are predominantly football lovers place more stakes on football than any other sporting activity.
Most of the patrons who spoke with the magazine said they take certain factors into consideration when it comes to their choice of a bookie. One of such is the speed of payout as Matthew said, “some sports betting websites are better than others in terms of quick payout. It is better to play on platforms where you can be sure you will get your return on time.” The bettors are not the only ones that make financial gains from sports betting. Agents who own betting shops also cash in money on daily, weekly and monthly bases and how bulky these are depends on the betting company and patronage rate for the period.
Tunde Olojede, who is a Nairabet agent in the Gbaremu area of Ibadan, explained that the betting company has more than 200 agents in Ibadan alone and hundreds of betting shops in other parts of the country. “If we consider the number of youths working under different sports betting companies,” he said, “you will observe that it has really helped in employment creation.” He made an example of himself, as he is able to meet financial needs with his sole job as an agent. “Being an agent also makes one current about sporting events,” the Accounting graduate who also acts as the office cashier added.
But what does it take to become an agent? Tobi Benson, a Winners Golden Bets agent in Lagos, explained that “once you have an average shop or business centre, your laptop or desktop computer, Internet modem and subscription for Internet connection, thermal printer and thermal paper or an A4 printer and A4 paper in place of thermal printer and paper, then you are set for business. You will need a minimum of N250,000 for these, as a thermal printer alone is sold for prices ranging from N15,000 to N38,000 depending on the size required. The area or town in which you want to situate your business however determines the cost.”
Elizabeth Godwin, a Goldenbet agent, also agreed with Benson, adding that “there is little one needs to do in terms of drawing customers through advertisements. You as an agent just have to make your shop attractive and inviting enough. Companies promote through social media, transit buses and other platforms and they draw agents and patrons through promotion.”
To Aderemi Daouva, a Bet9ja agent at Ibadan, the consciousness and awareness about sports betting has risen drastically beyond relying on advertisement of the companies. Daouva said, “Shops spring up everywhere now compared to when it was relatively new in Nigeria. For example, there are a lot of shops around mine here and there is competition as we are fighting for the same market to remain in operation.” According to Daouva, one can gain an edge by introducing “virtual” like horse racing, dog racing and others. “You should even extend your working hours to always be on ground when others are not around,” he added.
Saidu Taofeek, a trained accountant who works with Nairabet said the level of patronage depends on the days and the football season. There is more patronage at the weekends than the weekdays and more people play on Saturdays than on Sundays. Taofeek explained that there are always games on each day and a betting shop can earn above N30,000 daily as profit after payout.
In ensuring that the agents get paid, Bet9ja adopts what is called Commission Regime whereby 20 per cent of the stakes on each ticket goes to the agent. So the operators get a weekly commission based on the portion of their ticket sales. “This is better than the fixed commission, which does not encourage agents to draw more customers. “Percentage payout rates means if you make N100,000 a week and there is no winning, if the percentage is 70/30, you will get N30,000. You would not encourage winnings for customers because you would just have little amounts to share with the company when people win if all you get is 30 per cent commission on earnings after deducting winnings,” Daouva explained.
Some agents and bettors in these games are sometimes constrained by religious and social considerations. Shola Owoeye, a youth evangelist for northwestern Nigeria division of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, examined sports betting from the religious view saying the fact that it creates jobs does not justify it. “When you talk about gambling you talk of luck and that is not in the dictionary of God. Engaging in gambling or placing bets indicates placing one’s life on probability. Destiny is not about gambling that is not the best way to make it in life,” the Christian leader said adding that people should seek other means of livelihood rather than being agents or bettors.
Alabi Muideen, an Islamic scholar, said Islam strongly frowns at the act of gambling and those who engage in it. He described gambling as an action that is as immoral as it is irreligious. He stated that it is better to beg for what one needs rather than gamble to get money or to earn a living.
In northern Nigeria, where residents are predominantly Muslims, there
are fewer sports betting shops as against what obtains in other parts of the country. Patrons are also not as many as they are in the southern parts of the country. So, outlets are not as widespread as they are in other parts of the country. However, patrons can place their stakes and make predictions irrespective of where they are. They can do this with their mobile phones through text messages, calls, or by logging on to the companies’ websites if they have online sports betting accounts.
Despite that rejection, sports betting is taking over from lotto locally called Baba Ijebu. Dare Abdul, a sports analyst explained that people had to make a transition from playing lotto to sports betting because the former is a bit complicated. “When you play lotto, you choose numbers generated from 1 to 90 at random but sports betting gives you the opportunity to determine teams’ chances by considering their antecedence. You can also predict better and you even watch the competitions.”
The challenge of being an agent according to Daouva is that the volume of your patronage determines your take home, hence the need to drive followership and introduce products that make them committed or even addicted. He added that agents in metropolitan areas also have access to Spectranet provided by the betting websites even as the cost will be gradually deducted unlike those in remote areas who have to source for their own Internet services. He also identified maintenance of equipment as a major challenge.
Most of the agents who spoke with the magazine also complained bitterly about irregular power supply, as electricity is required for operation. “In spite of these challenges,” Salam said the agents still persist as they believe they stand a chance of winning as much as a million naira some day. Promise Wilson, a sports betting analyst said the sports betting sites have ended the era of interpersonal betting where some people resorted to violence and in some cases killed one another.
Omotayo Fasuhanmi, Ibadan coordinator of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission, NATLOREG, disclosed that for now, the body does not specify dues for sports betting companies and their agents as operation fees. However, Fasuhanmi said it is not in the commission’s purview for now to regulate winning or otherwise but expressed belief that the Act could later be amended to accommodate such. Sports’ betting is registered as a legitimate gambling business in the country, and with the number of jobs it generates for thousands of Nigerians; it is one business that would remain indispensable for years to come.