BusinessDay

Inside Nigeria’s football betting market where luck reigns

Olumide Alawode, a 56-year-old retired security man, spends what is left of his evenings every day staring at hundreds of betting numbers written with a black marker on a white canvas hung on a fence close to a tiny street. Armed with a blue pen and notebook that has seen the best of days, a burning cigarette, he tries to identify the correct odds in at least nine football games that could bring huge returns on his N200 bet.

The odds have to be correct for all the games. One number out of place, Alawode loses his N200. Eight out of 10 times, he loses the money only to return to the exact same spot the next day to try again.

“What I need is just one big game,” he says. He then gets into stories of his friends who hit the jackpot the previous day. One friend got the odds correctly last week and won N2 million.

“Just like that,” he gestures with his free hand, while still clutching the local cigarette in the other hand. The biggest money he won from a N200 bet was N50,000. Since then, when he manages to guess some of the numbers right his wins are within N10,000. When asked how he is able to predict the right odds, he replies, “Everything is luck.”

Nigeria’s booming football betting industry is built mainly on players chasing the next lucky day. Statistics or data are a byword that scarcely features in many people’s discussion on betting.

BusinessDay learns that there are now betting companies providing statistics of teams and players as added service to consumers.

A report projects that about 60 million Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 40 are involved in active sports betting, and football betting is the most popular segment of sports betting.

These Nigerians spend almost N2 billion on sports betting daily, which translates to about N730 billion annually. This is quite significant for a country where the 2022 national budget is N16.39 trillion. The sports betting market in Nigeria is estimated at $2 billion and is expected to grow primarily driven by the rapid spread of mobile phones.

Read also: Constructing a future for Nigerian sports

Ademola Adediji, sports betting expert and broadcast journalist, says Nigeria’s large population makes it a magnet for gaming companies. Apart from that, there is the passionate enthusiasm for football shared by millions of Nigerians.

The country’s economic situation, which affects the income of many Nigerians, is also a factor. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in a 2019 report on the Gaming Industry in Nigeria noted that to some extent, the need for additional income in the face of the recent economic recession, which has left a number of youths unemployed and underemployed, had provided a boost to the base of gaming users – in particular, sports betting and lotteries.

“Most Nigerians of legal betting age see sports betting as a means of escaping the economic situation in the country,” Adediji says.

The increasing adoption of sports betting has seen the influx of players of different sizes and shapes. There are about 36 gaming licences issued so far by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC).

The licencees include KC Gaming Bet (Bet9ja); AlphaGram West Africa (Alpahgramwa); Sporty Internet (Sportybet); Promoserve Inter Links (iBet); Digi Bay (Betway); Over the Top Entertainment (Nairabet); TM Gaming (Access Bet); Blackbet (Blackbet); Crystral Gaming (Betbiga); Naijabet Limited (Naijabet); Interactive Gaming Solutions (CloudBet); VisaTech Limited (BetLion); Calgary Online (BETPAWA); Beaufortbet Nigeria (1Xbet); Mobile Sport (Msport), and Advance Hospitality (Betwinner), etc.

The sports betting game is categorised into two – games that carry the cash-out plan and the ones that do not carry. While some people prefer games with cash-out so that they get quick money, others are patient to allow the whole game to roll out and get their full money if the odds favour them.

“I recently played a game of 9 points with N100 to get N26,000. The game involved three champions league and my prediction for the first game was right. I was given the opportunity to cash out just N1,040 out of the money but that was too little, and I didn’t want to cash out already. When I checked the following day, the money had reduced to N930, so I removed it to avoid further deductions,” says Abdulrazaq Idowu, a 47-year-old player.

How football betting works

Odds are set by a bookmaker and represent the ratio between the stake and winnings on a given outcome, should the player wish to place a bet on it.

Odds are usually shown as fractions (eg, 2/1), but can sometimes be shown as decimals (2.00) and players can decide which one they prefer to use. For example, if the outcome of an event has odds of 2/1 (or 2.00), it means you will win N2 for every N1 you bet.

Most bets are based on points each football team earns. Hence, prior to placing their bets, players must decide the game (for example Bayern vs Barcelona), the team they are betting on (either Bayern or Barcelona), predict the number of points to be scored, and how much money they will bet.

Samuel Dada, a betting agent, states that the higher the probability of wins for a club, the lower the points and vice versa. A betting agent makes money from commission on bets.

“Judging from previous matches and records, the players must have a good knowledge of the strength of each player in both teams and pick points supporting the team with a higher probability. Although it is not like that always, and that is why it is called a game of odds,” Dada says.

Adediji describes the use of statistics to guide bet options as the most logical thing to do. The effectiveness of using statistics really depends on what type of bet you are placing. Markets like the number of goals, the number of corners, the number of cards are examples of markets where many bettors will base their bets on statistics.

“If you go by statistics of these teams, there is a chance. Rather than just throwing in a bet without any recourse to how they are performing,” he says. This would imply that players can decide not to bet when the odds don’t present a chance of winning.

However, betting for many is a compulsive behaviour, therefore whether there are statistics or not they will bet nonetheless.

Dada explains that most people are addicted players who despite their losses keep playing, and they also go into visual betting because they cannot wait for real games to be played.

A virtual sports game is the programmed version of a real match and the fact that it is more available to players than the real games is something that attracts addicted sports game betters.

“Some people can take N10,000 to a sports betting shop and finish it in less than one hour without making any gain, while for some they will make close to a 10 percent increase on the money used to play the game,” Dada states.

But betting isn’t an exclusive pastime of low-income people’s pastime. There are also players in paid employment who are addicted to football betting. In fact, some gaming companies like BetKing are primarily targeting this category of consumer base with well-tailored adverts on different media channels.

@mrBayoal, a corporate player and technology expert, shared on Twitter recently how he won N30 million after playing a game of N150,000.

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