Game on, but not safe: The rise of underaged gambling in Nigeria

At a cybercafé somewhere in Abiola Johnson Street, Ajegunle, Lagos State, stone-faced male and few female clients were glued to their computers. They were unarguably under-18, going by their looks, and were supposed to be in school.

It was mid-morning on a weekday, the computers were all occupied and the underage were not there to do assignments given to them by their teachers; they were placing bets on football games, beach soccer, canoe sprint matches that were being played mostly in Europe.

The cybercafé was a replica of the many spread all over the city and in suburban areas that have been turned into betting sites.

“Cybercafés are no longer the internet places you knew, where people came to download serious stuff or upload a document or make corrections on documents,”

– said Jere Owolabi, the operator, who was a betting addict.

“With the introduction of online betting in Nigeria, the cybercafé business was transformed and acquired a new model.”

In most communities in Lagos and adjoining communities in Otta, Ogun State, students and young professionals have turned to cybercafés and online betting in the football-betting craze that has left many residents befuddled.

“All of them are males and few females that came along with them and between the ages of 15 and 17 years,” – said a cybercafé owner.

“A young man, who was working for an Information Technology company left his job for full-time betting.”

In Ogolonto town within Ikorodu Local Council, many young men have been sucked into the betting craze. They spend all day holed up in cybercafés, betting on nondescript teams in faraway countries. They pay upfront to cybercafés to satiate their betting addiction. Betting has become a full-time occupation for some people.

At this juncture, it may not be wrong to say that they are not pragmatically protected by consumer rights and consumer protection laws, which ought to provide a way for them to fight back against abusive business practices. These laws are designed to hold sellers of goods and services accountable when they seek to take advantage of a consumer’s lack of information or bargaining power.

Some conducts addressed by consumer rights laws are simply unfair, while other conducts can be described as outright fraud.

Consumer rights laws exist at the federal and state levels. They are enforced by government agencies, offices of attorneys-general, and through individual and class action lawsuits filed by victims.

Against the foregoing, it is not an exaggeration to say that all over the world, particularly when seen from the perspective of consumer protection laws, that vulnerable groups, which include minors, are protected from being harmed or exploited in the gambling sector. In fact, young people are different from adults because of their stage of physiological and psychological development, especially given their inexperience and position in society. They are more vulnerable to gambling-related harms; and the harms they experience are likely to have a large impact, now and in the future.

It is important, therefore, to identify the conditions, and to reduce the hazards that might impair children’s ability to grow up safely. Keeping children safe requires action by a range of organisations. In Nigeria, Section 34 of the National Lottery Act 2005 stipulates that it is illegal for the underage to be involved in betting.

“Any person who knowingly sells to any person under the age of 18 years any ticket in a lottery operated by a licensee commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not less than N20,000 or imprisonment for a term of not less than one year or both such fine and imprisonment,” – the law states.

Alas, despite the extant law, which protects children from engaging in gaming or betting, findings by BussinesDay reveal that the law is being obeyed in the breach, as underage betters frequently engage in online betting, popularly known as Baba Ijebu. The betting brand that originated from the south western part of Nigeria has reached almost every state of the federation.

It is therefore, critical to determine and mitigate potential risks that may impede children’s ability to develop and grow up safely. Keeping young people safe necessitates the involvement of numerous organisations.

Sadly, despite the existing law prohibiting children from gaming or betting, findings show that the law is being broken, as underage According to PWC’s report on the Nigeria Gaming industry, partnerships have become increasingly vital in providing a great gaming experience. Telecommunications and financial providers are making mobile gaming easier to access. In the lottery section, for instance, the Premier Bet Lotto, widely recognized as “baba Ijebu,” has collaborated with MTN, allowing users to participate in the lottery through shortcodes. Bet9ja has also struck a three-year NGN 200 million deal with the Nigerian National League to strengthen the Nigerian League in the sports betting area.

Furthermore, the National Sports Lottery (NSL) Plc, the organiser and sponsor of Lotto Nigeria, has installed 30,000 i8550 point-of-sale devices for E-payment lotteries. The i8550 accepts all types of bank cards and is used to buy lottery tickets through its secure interfaces. Furthermore, gambling establishments collaborate with mobile payment systems to give lucrative stakes bonuses, drawing additional clientele.

Nigeria’s betting sector has become one of Africa’s largest and most active, owing to a young population, significant internet coverage, and a love of sports. The introduction of internet platforms has made betting more accessible than at any time before, resulting in an increase in the variety of betting companies and money generated.

Proliferations of gambling opportunities and their increased promotion have engrossed numerous young players across the globe. The driving force behind these trends is online technology and almost universal access to the internet.

It has made gambling more approachable, and offers an on-demand and immersive experience. This novelty digital environment engulfs young minds and makes them susceptible to developing a serious gambling problem. The effect on social and emotional life can be devastating and spill over into all other areas.

In the digital age, young people are exposed to gambling more than ever before. In some countries, Gambling is regarded alongside drug addiction, smoking, and drinking. Moreover, all these behaviours are often mutually reinforcing.

So, what is the catch? Well, among other things, casinos and other operators ride on the tide of interactive digital media. While gambling has been gamified, video games embrace gamble-like design. There is, for instance, a loot box controversy happening as we speak – a problem that has occurred in some famed video games. Most people agree that this is indeed a form of gambling and that it should be regulated as such.

Here we see how gambling finds a way to creep into the lives of young people, sometimes disguised as something else. Yet, operators do not even have to employ exploitative and predatory practice in order to lure an army of eager players. One of the main draws of gambling is the promise of great rewards and the risk that looms over as you let the chips fall where they may. Alas, “hot streaks” never last long and sooner or later, problems come knocking at the door.

Play OJO’s research on underage gambling has shed some light on the scope of the issue. It has revealed that more than 450,000 children gamble in the UK.

In many other countries, this is one of the most vulnerable populations, despite the fact that its members are legally obliged to provide an ID as proof of their age. The sad truth is that not all online casinos are committed to preventing underage gambling and fail to adhere to relevant laws as well as their own terms and conditions.

On a pathological level, a gambling problem is easier to spot, but even benign forms of gambling such as lotto or card games can lead to developing addiction.

The great difficulty for parents is that unlike things like drug addiction, gambling addiction works in a clandestine fashion.

There are no physical warnings, at least, not at first. So, how does one go about recognising gambling trouble? Well, a lot of money going down the drain can be a telltale sign.


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