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Garnishing Passion With Survival

As Nigerians take their love for sports to a ‘lucrative’ level via sports betting, Gilbert Alasa dissects this fascinating trend that is spreading like wildfire in the country’s sports circle.

Just as football clubs struggle to outsmart one another in brand equity and profitability, so are the fans driven by the appetite to rake in some fortune by every legitimate means. Expectedly, many people, especially the youths, were thrilled by the awareness that, aside their love for the game, predictions could translate into some wads of naira notes in their pockets. Before now, pool staking was the in-thing. There was the era of national lottery and what many Nigerians have come to accept as Baba Ijebu. While these forms of gambling do not require special intelligence, sports betting entails the ability to forecast outcomes based on deep insights. 

A brief look at its history 

Betting predates the modern world. Some accounts from primordial times suggest that betting must have been quite popular even in Biblical times. Jonah, a servant of God, embarked on a spiritual mission to rescue the people of Nineveh. While the journey lasted, his ship was met with a violent tempest. The travellers decided to cast lots – another line of betting – to decipher the immediate cause of the storm. Roman soldiers also cast lots on Jesus’ garment.

In modern day account, sports betting is traceable to Greek cities such as Delphi, Olympus and Corinth where athletic competitions were regularly held. Contestants were requested to dress in battle-ready outfits. At the stands, spectators would wager on the outcomes of the competition, sometimes with their estates, money or other valuables. The story is the same with the early Romans who saw luck as a key aspect of life. The Germans took to skittles and quoits for betting while the Italians took advantage of the bocce, a game common in modern day Croatia, Montenegro and Herzegovina.

The beginning of progress

In Europe, Baseball remained the king of sports betting until the 1920s when other sports such as football began to witness improved popularity. Two factors would later skyrocket the impact of that growth. First was the evolution of many soccer leagues around the world, resulting in huge profits, sponsorship, endorsement deals and accrued earnings. That growth sparked increased participation on and off the pitch. Two, the evolution of pay-TV, free-TV and modern technology helped to bolster the fortunes of the sports industry. Unfettered access to cable networks, rise in social media penetration, a growing fan base by many football clubs and easy access to odds by means of mobile phones have opened a whole world of opportunities for sports enthusiasts.

In 1996, Intertops, an online casino and multiple-player poker outlet, created the first internet sports bet. From this period till date, online sports betting has swept through every nook and cranny of the world. From the locus of a leisure game, sports betting has grown to a multi-billion dollar industry. A betting and sports data analyst and Director of Integrity – Sportradar, Darren Small, opines that the match-betting industry is worth a massive $700bn and $1trn a year. And not less than 70% of this comes from football alone.

There is a whole body of facts to support Darren Small’s valuations. First, more Premier League teams have betting brands on their shirts in the 2015/16 season than the previous two seasons. From Norwich’s deal with Coral to Liverpool FC, extension of 188Bet deal as well as West Bromwich’s pact with NetBet, betting brands have continued to boost the profile of many premier league clubs. With a record-breaking £870m transfer spend, surpassing last year transfer window by £35m, English clubs have continued to show how liquid they have become. Hence, many betting companies
are cashing in on this huge following to feather their nests. 

In Nigeria, the industry is estimated to be worth N40bn annually, according to Price Waters House Coopers, a global audit firm. What’s more cheery for practitioners is that the sector has been projected to grow by 10% in 2016. And such leap in fortune is estimated to further create tons of jobs for the swarming army of Nigeria’s unemployed. 

Not all about money, after all As the game grows in followership, many fans are looking beyond the excitement. At first, the real deal was to open a viewing centre.  But just after a few years, the attention gradually shifted to sports betting. Though profitable and yet extremely risky, many fans have come to accept the wager as a key part of their lives. While many view sports betting as a game for the unemployed, others simply see the game as an “unserious” venture embarked on by unambitious folks. 

But all that changed recently. A Professor of Computer Engineering at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Godwin Ighalo, won a whooping N58 million from predicting EPL matches. He staked a total of N8, 000 with 1960bets and emerged as the highest winner in the history of sports betting in Nigeria. His win sparked conversations and debates, refuting the notion that the game belongs to a certain class of people. But what really is
the motive behind the proliferation of sports betting outfits in Nigeria? Of what essence is the growing number of sports betting firms springing up across the country? Are they simply a conduit pipe to dupe Nigerians of their hard-earned cash? 

Prof. Ighalo attributed his love for betting to his passion for predicting possible outcomes of life’s events. This pastime dates back to his childhood days marked by a fascination for predicting the unknown. “Since my childhood days, I used to have strong interests in probability, relationships and
special intelligence. All these, with adequate sports betting research, I conducted over the years, helped in making it possible,” he said.

For Kazan Osifo, the betting experience transcends the fun of exchanging money for bet tickets. Kazan, who works as an underwriter in an insurance firm, said: “Betting, to me, is a spiritual exercise. It is deeper than we think. You make predictions based on your belief and then you go ahead to stake
your money on that belief. If you win, it adds to your confidence. If you lose, your confidence is shaken. More importantly, how you react to both sides shows your strength of character. That’s how I see it; that’s why I love it.” 

For Osifo, his romance with betting far outweighs the financial returns that come with the game. Such passion is linked to the social value of sports and how it can help to achieve progress and social cohesion. In 2012, Nigeria lost over $200m to cybercrime; a vice perpetrated mostly by youths 
which form the critical mass of the population. Presenting a paper at the National Stakeholders’ Consultative Forum on 2013 – 2017 Strategic Management Plan recently in Lagos, CEO of Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization, Prof. Tim Unwin, said the vice posed serious implications on the nation’s brand reputation. This tinkling time bomb can be averted by engaging these youths with investments in sports betting.

In a report by The Christian Science Monitor, Brazilian Government resorted to socceras a way to reduce its alarming murder rates prior to the 2014 World Cup. With nearly 100 citizens killed daily by over 16 million circulating guns, Brazilian congress opted to give free match tickets to those who voluntarily turn in their arms. The level of response was remarkable. 

Where survival is the rule 

But not everyone turns the page to sports for leisure sake. Survival drives a large category of persons. In a country where the employment rate has climbed to 7.5% from 6.4% in the first quarter of 2015, sports betting has come to be an integral part of the real economy. Young, unemployed youths
troop to betting shops daily to stake their money on odds. Investigations by the News Agency of Nigeria in 2014, revealed that Nigerians between ages 18 and 40 may be spending about N180 million per day. 

BrandiQ spoke to Adebanji Dimeji, a graduate of International Relations from the Lagos State University. Dimeji who completed his national service in April continues to dream of the day mother luck would smile on him with a job. For obvious reasons, that dream remains far from sight. Folding his
arms at his Ipaja home seems not to be the best of options. Instead, he turned to betting with the little savings he garnered as a youth corps member. “Sports betting is a legitimate way to survive. With N100, one can win a few odds enough to keep body and soul together. I started with the little savings I got from my NYSC allowances. I can’t be waiting for job forever. Sometimes I win. Other times, I lose. Whichever way, I have been surviving 
on this,” Dimeji stated. 

Driving more profits 

The sports betting industry is no doubt profitable. But a major wind likely to sink the boat is poor regulations. It is cheery that many sports betting companies are springing up by the day. But it is risky to allow the industry thrive without  regulations. President of the Gaming Association of Nigeria, Yahaya Maikori, said regulating the industry was important to protect players and generate income for the government in form of taxes. 

Research has shown that many illegal sports syndicates are infiltrating the industry, offering better odds compared to the registered firms. In many countries, bettors are only permitted by law to place their wagers in betting shops. For obvious reasons, such legislations help to track the activities of bet companies and ensure accrued taxes are remitted to the government. 

Stakeholders are of the view that proper regulations of the industry would translate to greater returns for the players, practitioners and government. 

Financial projections for the sports betting sector in Nigeria are quite appealing; players and investors could have more chances of smiling to the bank. But regulation is a key lubricant needed to oil the wheel of profitability. Add that to the impact of betting on the nation’s real sector. Betting is sure to take a chunk of the unemployed off the streets. Whether players are driven by survival or the thrill of placing odds, sports betting is creating
social value for Nigerians. 

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