Bloom or doom: Bright, dark sides of Nigeria’s booming betting industry

Gambling or betting has long been a popular pastime for people across the globe. It offers the thrill of taking a chance and the potential for a big win. But behind the glitz and glamour of casinos and the excitement of placing a bet, there are potential risks and consequences that must not be taken with levity.

According to Britannica, an online encyclopaedia, gambling is the betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor’s miscalculation.

Investigation revealed that an important distinction to make is the difference between betting and gambling. While both involve placing a stake or wager on an event, the outcome of which is uncertain, there are significant differences.

Betting typically involves placing a wager on an event that is influenced by the players’ skill or performance. This could include sports betting or other games, where a person’s knowledge or expertise can impact the outcome.

On the other hand, gambling involves the risk of placing a bet on an event with no clue of the outcome. This could encompass casino games, slot machines, or any activity where chance plays a significant role.

In Nigeria, legal forms of gambling include the lottery, land-based casinos, and sports betting. However, certain games like roulette, dice games, and non-skilled card games are considered illegal.

It was further gathered that online gambling is not specifically regulated by the law, leaving room for ambiguity in its legality.

The minimum age for gambling in Nigeria is set at 18 years to ensure responsible participation.

In this special report, Saturday Sun explores the multifaceted world of betting and gambling in Nigeria, delving into its historical roots, social and economic impacts, as well as the legal framework surrounding the industry.

It also examines the ramifications of excessive gambling, including the toll it takes on individuals’ mental health and the alarming rise in suicide cases linked to gambling-related losses.

The glimmer of hope that exists for those caught in the throes of gambling addiction and the measures being taken to address this pressing issue is also given consideration.

Evolution of gambling in Nigeria

The practice of betting and gambling in Nigeria has a long and complex history, with its roots tracing back to traditional forms of gambling that have been prevalent in various Nigerian cultures for centuries.

These traditional forms of gambling often revolved around games of chance and skill, serving as a form of entertainment and social bonding within communities.

However, the landscape of gambling in Nigeria underwent a significant transformation with the introduction of modern betting practices over the past century, from colonial influence to digital disruption, being fuelled by advancements in technology and the proliferation of online betting platforms.

The emergence of sports betting, in particular, has captured the imagination of many Nigerians, offering them the opportunity to wager on a wide array of sporting events and potentially win substantial sums of money.

The origins of organised gambling in the bustling nation of Nigeria can be traced back to the 1920s, when the British colonial government introduced pool betting, a system that involved predicting the outcomes of football matches.

The pool betting involved the use of formula, including 1-2-X, where 1 stands for home win, 2 denotes away win, and X means draw.

Once a pastime primarily confined to expatriates, the landscape of betting and gambling has expanded to encompass the masses, driven by the introduction of various forms of sports betting and lottery.

The initial foray was primarily targeted at the expatriate communities living in Nigeria, but it soon gained traction among the local population, becoming a popular pastime.

The landscape of gambling in Nigeria further evolved with the emergence of sports lottery in the country.

In 2001, a landmark event occurred – the establishment of Chief Kensington Adebutu’s Premier Lotto Limited, the first registered lottery company in Nigeria.

This probably paved the way for the entry of other major betting operators, such as NairaBet, Winners Golden Bet, 1960Bet, and Bet9ja, each vying for a slice of the growing market.

The most significant shift in the Nigerian gambling industry has been the advent of online betting, a revolution believed to have been initiated by Akin Alabi’s NairaBet in 2009.

The technological innovation, as gathered, has made it easier than ever for gamblers to place bets on sports from the comfort of their smart phones, tablets, and laptops.

The convenience has reportedly contributed to the surge in the number of people engaged in gambling activities across the country.

Current realities

The sports betting industry in Nigeria is estimated to be a $2billion industry. With about N8billion staked every day, the industry rakes in about N730billion annually.

Over the years, it has been patronised by young people who are mainly sports lovers and enthusiasts, but of late, men and women of all age brackets are neck-deep into it.

Before now, betting centres were sparsely found both in the city and rural areas, but that is no longer the situation as betting centres now dot almost every street.

Saturday Sun gathered that there are stake options. Some people bet in support of a football club to win, sometimes with a certain margin of goals; some times during a particular period – first or second half of a match, while some stake that a particular club would lose, sometimes by a certain number of goals.

It was also discovered that people can bet with as little as N100 and hope to win a million naira. It is believed that one’s ability to win is a function of one’s experience, exposure to sporting activities, analytical skills as well as the available odds.

These days, technology has even made it easier for gamblers. Games are staked online with phones and other mobile devices against the traditional system of going to the viewing centres.

Gamblers have been monitoring their stakes in real-time as the games are on, to either cash-out or allow the game to end.

There is a ‘single game’ sheet which is for one particular game. For instance, it is betting on a game in one football match on a particular club site. Also, there is what is called ‘Accumulator’, which is a situation where players can stake games from the Champions league, Serie A, La Liga, Premiership, and others, all together.

Gamblers shares experiences

Christopher Ibegbuna, a graduate of computer science, said he indulged in the act just to make ends meet, having seen many gamblers cash out.

For some gamblers, it is a tale of woes. Ikechukwu Nwaji, who claimed to have been a gambler for seven years, said that he spent N700, 000 cumulatively, and earned N217, 000. He described himself as a loser.

He revealed how he used his Plasma television set to borrow money to bet, but now feels relieved for quitting. “I thank God I’m out of it,” he confessed. He was not alone as he recounts the travails of his friend who staked N240,000, his salary for one month, but lost everything.

He didn’t stop at that as he used his 12.5kg gas cylinder as collateral to borrow N30,000, gambled again and lost. There is also the bizarre case of Ebima Koko (not real name), who staked his children’s school fees and his motorcycle in quick succession but failed to win.

Similarly, Abiodun Bakare, who said he has been betting for over eight years said he is targeting a jackpot of N30 million before he can quit betting, having spent an estimated N3 million and gained about N200,000.

Bakare, an Ogun State based carpenter revealed that, quitting the act is something he wished to, but will have to make a significant amount of money before he can quit gambling. His attraction is that SpottyBet, his favourite sports betting platform, provides a cheaper option.

Ongoing debate

The rise of online betting and the proliferation of gambling in Nigeria have sparked a multifaceted debate with a view to balancing economic benefits and social concerns

On one side, proponents argue that the industry generates substantial economic benefits, creating jobs and contributing to government revenues.

On the other hand, critics express concern about the social vices and addictive behaviours that gambling can encourage, particularly among the youth.

The middle line between the supporters and critics of betting is the challenge that lies in striking a delicate balance between embracing the economic opportunities presented by the betting or gambling industry and mitigating the potential social consequences that come with it.

Potential risks and negative effects

It is crucial to recognise the potential risks and negative effects associated with harmful gambling. It is believed that close relationships with individuals who gamble regularly can often lead to increased gambling habits, and creating a cycle that is difficult to break. The social ties, it was stated, can also hinder a person’s efforts to reduce or stop his or her gambling activity.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists in United Kingdom, individuals who engage in harmful levels of gambling are more likely to experience low self-esteem, stress-related disorders, anxiety, sleep disturbances, appetite problems, substance misuse, and depression.

Experts also stated that the adverse effects of gambling could have a significant impact on a person’s overall well-being and quality of life.

Social, economic impact of betting and gambling

As gathered, the rise of betting and gambling in Nigeria has had far-reaching social and economic implications, shaping the behaviour of individuals and impacting communities across the country.

On one hand, the gambling industry has provided employment opportunities for many Nigerians, ranging from bookmakers and betting shop operators to marketing professionals and software developers.

The allure of quick financial gains through gambling has drawn in a significant segment of the population, with many viewing betting as a means of escaping poverty and achieving upward social mobility.

The promise of instant wealth has led to a surge in gambling participation, particularly among young people, who are enticed by the prospect of transforming their fortunes overnight.

However, the flip side of the coin perhaps revealed a darker reality, as the probably unchecked proliferation of betting and gambling has resulted in a host of negative consequences for individuals and society at large.

It was gathered that the addictive nature of gambling could lead to financial ruin, strained relationships, and deteriorating mental health, as individuals become ensnared in a cycle of compulsive betting behaviour.

Gambling addiction in Nigeria

For many individuals caught in the grip of gambling addiction, the future may seem bleak and hopeless. The relentless pursuit of elusive wins and the crushing weight of mounting losses can drive individuals to the brink of despair, with some resorting to drastic measures to escape their predicament.

One of the most alarming consequences of gambling addiction in Nigeria is the rise in suicide cases linked to gambling-related losses.

The tragic stories of individuals who have taken their own lives after accruing insurmountable debts through gambling have been on the front burner over the human cost of unchecked gambling behaviour.

The ease and unrestricted access to gambling, particularly through online platforms, have also been seen to have exacerbated the issue of addiction.

Although gambling and sports betting brands are mandated to include ‘Bet Responsibly’ and the 18+ symbol in their promotional materials, it has been contended that the measures have proven insufficient in curbing the problem.

Investigation also revealed that the United Kingdom has taken a proactive step by passing a bill that limits the amount of money a player can spend on betting daily and monthly, either through an individual IP address or device.

Analysts believe a similar approach could be beneficial in the Nigerian gambling landscape.

According to a 2019 survey by NOI Polls, a staggering 60 million Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 40 are involved in addictive gambling, with football being the leading metric among all types of sports betting. The poll also revealed that Nigeria is the second-highest country in Africa for gambling, trailing only South Africa.

The human cost of the gambling craze is immense, with many Nigerians suffering from silent pain and depression due to addiction. Some punters have even lost their lives, families, and businesses as a result of their gambling habits.

It was also discovered that betting is a life wire of some people. They have been gambling for a long time, and they believe that they would surely hit jackpots in the industry. Probably, a number of them would have been decomposing under the ground, but they have been keeping hope of success alive through betting.

Suicide cases linked to gambling addiction

The shocking suicides, linked to gambling addiction, paint a sombre picture of the severe consequences that gambling addiction can inflict upon individuals and society as a whole.

In a series of tragic incidents over the past few years, Nigeria has witnessed a distressing rise in suicides related to gambling, especially the online platforms.

The devastating consequences of addiction came to light once again when Samuel Adegoke, a student of the Federal Polytechnic Ilaro, took his own life in May 2023. He reportedly drank poison after he struggled with enormous debt, which accumulated after losing his own school fees as well as his friend’s to an online betting app,

In a similar vein, in December 2023, Onoh Chukwuma, desperate and unemployed, resorted to gambling as a means to escape his financial woes. Tragically, he ingested lethal insecticide after losing a staggering N2.5million in bets.

Chukwuma’s Facebook posts detailed his descent into addiction, revealing that he had borrowed an additional N1.2million to fuel his gambling spree, only to be left empty-handed.

The grim tales of despair stretched further back in time. In December 2021, yet another life was lost when an Abuja-based man, identified as Adegbite, took his own life after losing his company’s N150,000 to gambling.

Back in September 2016, a man named Mr. Uchenna tragically hanged himself in his room in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital. He was engulfed in the clutches of sports betting. He had gambled away N22,000, which he borrowed from his boss with the hope of replacing it upon winning. His dreams were shattered when he did not win.

It is expected that the Nigerian government and institutions would take urgent action to address the escalating issue through provision of support, education, and resources to combat the devastating effects of gambling addiction.

Legal landscape of sports betting

The legal framework governing sports betting in Nigeria is a complex and evolving terrain, being shaped by a combination of federal and state laws that seek to regulate the industry and protect consumers from exploitation.

The National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) serves as the primary regulatory body overseeing the gaming sector in Nigeria, with the responsibility of issuing licences to operators and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations.

One of the key pieces of legislation that governs sports betting in Nigeria is the National Lottery Act of 2005, which provides the legal basis for the operation of lotteries and gaming activities in the country.

Under this law, sports betting operators are required to obtain a licence from the NLRC and adhere to strict guidelines regarding the conduct of their operations.

In some states, the National Lottery Act of 2005 has been domesticated. The states, at present, have gaming boards.

Saturday Sun was reliably informed that despite the efforts to regulate the industry, challenges persist in enforcing compliance with existing regulations and combating illegal gambling activities that operate outside the purview of the law.

The proliferation of unlicensed betting shops and online gambling platforms, it was stated, poses a significant challenge to regulators, as they seek to rein in illicit practices and protect consumers from fraud and exploitation.

Gambling craze, cash-outs, punters

An independent accounting firm reported that one of the leading sports betting platforms in Nigeria recorded a monthly turnover of a staggering $10million in 2016.

In September 2022, the Nigerian Data Protection Bureau (NDPB) reported that the Nigerian government generates over N730billion yearly from the gaming industry.

It is the aggregate opinion of some observers that the gaming industry seems like a cash cow for both operators and regulators. They argued that the reality paints a concerning picture for the vast majority of players, known as the consumers.

Experts warn that the lucrative nature of the industry has made it increasingly difficult for regulators to fulfil their duties effectively, as those tasked with protecting the punters are seemingly ‘cashing out’ from the same industry.

Religious perspectives

In spite of the high premium Nigerians place on their different religious injunctions, betting centres keep booming.

Pastor Chukwuemeka Nwogu believed that betting or ambling business has ruined the lives of many men far more than it has added value.

He narrated his experience in settling disputes between husbands and wives over betting.

“As a pastor, I can tell you confidently that it is against bible principles. Some people usually claim that gambling provides thousands of jobs and has enriched many people. But they refuse to tell you that betting has turned them into addicted slaves, placed them in debt, depression and other forms of bondage.”

Nwogu, founder of Mountain of the Living Word Ministries, revealed how some gamblers committed suicide; how some relationships broke up; and how some marriages shattered because of gambling.

“I do settle gambling-related problems between fathers, mothers and their children, especially the males, but if such persons are determined to stop it, it’s absolutely possible,” – he told Saturday Sun.

On his part, the founder of Raodotul-Istijaba Society of Nigeria (RISON), Abdul Rasheed Ayodele Oyekunle, also known as Imole Ayo, confessed that he was a gambler from his secondary school days, but later gave up the habit when he became an Islamic cleric.

“Our religion abhors anything gambling. From time immemorial, our religious leaders abhor it. They saw it as the work of the devil. When you eat it, it eats back from you even more and leaves you sad. No one makes it through betting. No matter how much you cash out, you will later fall.”

Like his Christian counterpart, Oyekunle also has a bad experience to share.

“A friend of mine staked N1.5 million and cashed out N5 million. But to date, he uses part of his salary to stake. He cries daily but he can’t stop it,”

– Oyekunle said even as he confirmed that some families are at war over gambling.

Last Line

Navigating the highs and lows of gambling in Nigeria probably calls for responsible participation, based on the fact that it is a complex tapestry, weaving hope and despair, az well as opportunity and risk.

The consensus among individuals interviewed and sourced materials suggested that the potential dangers of gambling must be recognised, and it is crucial for Nigerians to approach it with caution and moderation.

Many are of the opinion that proper understanding and responsible participation can ensure that gambling, or sports betting, remains an enjoyable pastime rather than a harmful habit. Individuals can make informed decisions and maintain a healthy balance in their gambling activities by being mindful of the potential consequences.


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