Nigeria Betting: Driver of sports industry or road to addiction?

By Temitayo Lawal
Posted on Friday, 29 July 2022 10:15

Nigeria's William Troost-Ekong celebrates scoring against South Africa. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Sports betting in Nigeria has the potential to stimulate interest and investment in sporting development – yet the dangers of gambling addiction means that growth may come at a human cost.

A population of over 200 million and a median age of 18 mean that sport in Nigeria should be big business. The Draft 2020 National Sports Industry Policy estimated that the industry could generate N2trn ($4.7bn) in average annual revenue, provide 5 million to 10 million direct and indirect jobs and contribute about 1.5% to 3% of GDP over 10 years.

Yet sports development in Nigeria is still struggling, with the sector contributing well under 1% of GDP. Some see betting as a potential engine of growth. Increased interest in betting could mean higher match attendances and improved TV viewership, making team sponsorship more attractive. Government tax revenue from betting could be used to develop sporting facilities.

If we can remove issues around integrity and professionalism of the clubs and how well they are run, more companies can offer odds. This can spur widespread interest in the NPFL and begin to unlock the potential of the league.

“The sports betting industry in Nigeria has enormous potential to grow Nigerian sports, especially football. A few of the betting companies have started offering odds on matches played in the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL). But the majority aren’t because they are still sceptical or cautious about the competitive nature of the NPFL,” Babatunde Koiki, director of strategic partnerships at sports media and marketing consultancy 12N2, tells The Africa Report.

One reason is because stakeholders in the league flout the FIFA statute that forbids a single entity from owning two clubs in the same competition, he says. The rule is meant to ensure the integrity of the competitions. In the Nigerian league, Enyimba Football Club and Abia Warriors Football Club are owned by the Abia state government. The Cross River state government also owns Akwa United and Dakkada Football Club.

“If we can remove issues around integrity and professionalism of the clubs and how well they are run, more companies can offer odds. This can spur widespread interest in the NPFL and begin to unlock the potential of the league,” Koiki argues.

Betting growth

Licensed sports betting companies in Nigeria total 47, according to the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) regulator. Sports betting platforms competing for market share include Bet9ja, NairaBet, BetKing, Betway, Sporty Bet, Winners Golden Bet and 1xBet. A local newspaper, BusinessDay, reported that over 60 million Nigerians aged between 18 and 40 years spend about $5.5m on sports betting daily, or $2bn annually. Most of this revolves around foreign sporting activities, mainly European football leagues.

The increasing adoption of technology by betting companies supported by progress in digital penetration across the country is stimulating sports betting among the educated and the middle class. But widespread unemployment in Nigeria has been identified as the main reason for increased sports betting.

  • Over 33% of working age Nigerians have no jobs. Among young people, 63.5%, or over 19 million, are either unemployed or underemployed, according to the country’s statistics office.
  • “I know many people who have made sports betting a source of their livelihood. I know people who earmark a percentage of their salaries for betting monthly. I know people who run their families on sports betting. I know those whose only source of funds for fuelling their cars, feeding their kids, spending at parties etc is sports betting,” Koiki says.
  • Poverty in Nigeria cuts across the young and old, rural and urban dwellers and men and women. Nigeria has 70 million extremely poor people, over 30% of population, and is only second to India as the country with most people under the poverty line.

Many have found relief in sports betting and the hope of a big win.

“The percentage of those who bet with N100 to N200 as against bettors who spend far higher tells you that sports betting is largely fuelled by poverty, the state of the economy and the need for people to make ends meet,” says radio presenter Sulaiman Pooja Adebayo.

One of the few companies that have cracked the offline, physical betting game is Bet9ja. Segun Adebote, who runs several outlets in Ogun state, says that football betting is the most popular in his shops, followed by basketball, with virtual games also popular outside the football season.

Adebote says he can still make as much as N500,000 in a bad month.

Addiction

While sports betting may be used to unlock the potential of Nigeria’s sports, especially football, it’s important for the government to come up with regulation to prevent addiction, which can ruin lives, businesses and relationships. This is a particular danger in Nigeria, whose betting population is mostly young.

“There are a lot of minors who have betting apps on their phones or patronise betting shops and are deep into sports betting. This is a major societal problem: some of these kids bet with their school fees while some borrow money from loan sharks which strong-arm or abuse them in the process. And there are reports of sexual abuse in the case of women,” Koiki says.

He says that regulators should be actively trying to curb addiction and underage betting by setting limits and standards, organising regular training seminars for agents on preventing addiction and providing counselling and therapy.

“They need to do more because they are obviously not doing enough,” Koiki says.

Bottom line

Nigeria needs to ensure that its young people don’t end up as the collateral victims of sports-betting growth.

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