After losing his job as a factory engineer in 2019, John Uwa, a 47-year-old father, was frustrated after searching in vain for another source of livelihood to enable him to provide for his family.
A friend who won big on a betting platform introduced him to betting. Uwa, a Lagos-based father of three, told BusinessDay that the betting platform has been of support to him, helping him to raise little money to support his wife through his wins, even though he lost most times.
“On my phone, I have up to five betting apps. Previously, I staked N1,000-N5,000, but now I have increased my stake and reduced the accumulator risks due to the country’s current situation of inflation,” he said.
“Some days, I lose, but that hasn’t stopped me from playing. I became addicted to it at some point. You’ll notice me constantly pressing my phone in the morning, afternoon and evening, monitoring some sites and people who are constantly dropping games on social media platforms. At one point, I was always using my generator to charge my phone when it was running low on power,” he added.
Ordinarily, Uwa’s faith, Christianity, was enough to make him avoid gambling, but since losing his job and convincing himself employers must have something against hiring older men, the promise of cashing out big on the next bet has proven to be too much temptation. According to Uwa, he recently got a job as a teacher which rather enables him to stake higher amounts. However, there is only so much his N70,000 salary can take him.
Uwa is one of many Nigerians now addicted to gambling as a means of escaping surging poverty levels in the country. Nigeria ranked 103rd out of 121 countries in the recently released 2022 Global Hunger Index report.
Before inflation started rising to the current level (20.7 percent in September), there were 82.9 million poor Nigerians. The number has since risen to 90.1 million in 2021 and is projected to hit 95.1 million in 2022, according to data from the World Bank.
Many more poor Nigerians could mean more desperate betting customers. A recent report showed that 66 percent of Nigerians have placed a bet on a sporting event at least once in their lives. With this surge in demand, betting investments have also multiplied in the country. The list of betting companies keeps growing on a daily basis.
The betting platforms in the country include Msport, 1xbet, Naijabet, Nairabet, Betway, Bet9ja, Sportybet, Lionsbet, Merrybet, Surebet247, Betfarm, Betland, 1960bet, Betking, and 9japredict.
Victor Idisi, a clearing agent in Apapa, said betting remains a major business for him because of his passion for football and ability to forecast games.
“I bet when I am 85 percent certain that the team will win, especially when a league is in play. I play short games and stake amounts such as N100,000 or N200,000 because I am confident of winning,” Idishi said
Sports betting is particularly the most prominent of the betting segments due to the love for football by millions of Nigerians, and the majority of the games are now done online. Online gaming is expected to grow to a global industry worth $93 billion by 2023.
Annual gross gaming yield (the amount gambling facilities get after payments) has been estimated to exceed $400 billion. And, while it may appear as though the sports betting sector has exploded into mainstream society, this was not always the case, as interviews with many Nigerians show.
“The state of the Nigerian economy is an enabler. It’s leaving me with no other option but to bet more. At first, it was just for fun, but now it’s a side hustle for me,” Ibrahim Sunday, a regular bettor, said.
Sunday says his passion for gambling has grown exponentially because he sometimes wins and sometimes loses. That is why it is referred to as a game, he added.
A 2016 report by KPMG found that at least one bookmaker was making $10 million a month from local sports bettors.
Three years later, a report by Research and Markets valued the Nigerian sports betting industry at $2 billion and growing, buoyed by the emergence of online and mobile sports betting.
Yetunde Akin, an agent for BetKing, said he sometimes meets people who are waiting for him when he arrives at the office in the morning.
“We have more customers, let’s say about 300 people, coming to our office to place bets on match days during football seasons. But the number reduces to about 100 to 150 during off-seasons.”
Business is also thriving as he could earn up to N2 million to N5 million monthly and spend about N500,000 to N2 million to pay winners.
With a growing population of over 160 million people, and youth unemployment estimated at 56 percent, about 60 million youths seem to have channelled their energy into sports betting, placing bets on different matches played in European and other nations daily.
Nigerians spend over N730 billion annually on sports betting and at least N2 billion is generated daily, recent research from NOI Polls analytics shows.
The data also revealed that over 60 million Nigerian punters spend over N3,000 daily placing bet stakes and at least there are 50 betting sites in Nigeria, with the number growing annually.
Respondents who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria recently said they placed bets to generate quick and easy income, and turn their passion for football into cash.
Considering Africa’s betting landscape, Nigeria’s growth in this field has been quite remarkable and fast in recent years. In the past, gambling was a stigmatised activity; but now, it has become popular in Nigeria as a way of spending both money and time.
Gbenga Joseph, a cybersecurity officer in Lagos, said betting companies are taking advantage of the average Nigerian’s gullibility, believing that he can risk a little to win big.
He added that the industry has been growing and is expected to rise even further as more online and mobile alternatives become available.