Austin Okocha, Nigeria’s football legend popularly called ‘Jay Jay’, was the first and most prominent ambassador signed by BetKing when they launched in the Nigerian market in 2018. According to the legendary footballer at the launch, the BetKing philosophy resonated with him because they believe “that everyone, whatever their position, has a chance to become King of their destiny.”
But millions of Nigerians who watched their football idol and took his words literally have gambled away their meagre earnings and become poorer.
Kingsley Uzoma, a gambling addict who has lost a lot of money and even sold properties to bet, said he regrets learning about gambling. The biggest loss for him is the trust of his family, friends and colleagues who now see him as always making the wrong financial decisions due to his betting addiction.
“If I had gambled 10 times, I lost 7 of them. I keep betting because I need the money to solve problems. Quitting is the best option, but what is the way out when it has become a habit and one that gives me hope? Recovery wouldn’t be easy either. I would say, generally, that I regret knowing gambling. The country is hard and most of these things are expected in a bad economy. So, it is not a surprise and the opportunities in the country are getting slimmer,” Uzoma said.
Nnamdi Nelson, who has been addicted to gambling for over two decades said he is unable to quit because he does not know how to stop the habit.
“It’s been more than 22 years since I started gambling. Now I don’t plan to quit. I have reduced my staking power because the money is no longer there. A lot of people don’t know that I bet because I do it online. I try to manage the odds by playing live matches. No matter how little it is, you stake. You can win, but most times we lose it as well. There is no 100 percent proof that you must win in every stake,” Nelson said.
A 2020 report found 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. The report also noted that Nigerians spend almost N2 billion on sports betting daily, which translates to about N730 billion annually. It also put the sports betting market in Nigeria at an estimated value of $2 billion.
In September 2023, GeoPoll surveys conducted in May 2017 and December 2021 were unveiled and showed that while Kenya leads the African continent as the top gambling country with a remarkable 83.90 percent of their citizens actively involved, Nigeria was closely behind with 78 percent of Nigerians confirming their participation in gambling. Nigeria also had the highest average monthly spending on bets in Africa.
Although surging mobile penetration is seen as primarily responsible for the astronomical growth of the betting industry in Nigeria, aggressive advertising is also considered a significant factor in their spread.
It is almost impossible to find a top betting company in Nigeria today that hasn’t been endorsed by one or two celebrities.
In May 2023, BetKing signed comedian Shaggi and former Big Brother Naija housemate and Nollywood actor Tobi Bakre as ambassadors to work alongside Okocha in pushing the company’s brands.
In 2019, Bet9ja reportedly spent N1.08 billion for headline sponsorship of Big Brother Naija, one of the country’s biggest TV shows. The company also has Victor Ikpeba, Okocha’s former national teammate. Harrison Chinedu who holds the Guinness World Record for the farthest distance travelled with a football balanced on the head as ambassadors of Bet9ja. Celebrities like Poco Lee and Yhemolee are constantly advertising for Bet9ja on Instagram.
Sportybet has had Kanu Nwankwo as its ambassador since May 2016. The company also renewed the contract of Michael Essien as brand ambassador in August 2023. A month later, Sportybet revealed an advertisement featuring top Real Madrid players, including Federico Valverde and Aurelien Tchouameni and its global ambassador, Eder Milito.
“The advertising is just like the old beer ads and the cigarette ads that were on TV for years. It’s the same situation,” said Van Bickier, a gambling addict. “People are being sucked into thinking it’s glamorous, thinking they’re going to win, and they don’t win, in the end, they lose everything.”
Apart from endorsing betting platforms, some celebrities actively encourage their followers to bet by posting betting odds on their social media platforms. Emeka Okonkwo, an ostentatious celebrity popularly known as E Money, posts weekly betting odds to his 13.6 million followers. In one of his recent posts on Instagram, he claimed he won N6.8 million from betting.
According to experts, advertising has an undeniable impact on gambling starting with raising awareness about different betting options available in the market and encouraging people to try them out. In a recent report, the Australian Gambling Research Centre found a strong link between exposure to betting advertising and riskier gambling behaviour. According to the report, exposure to wagering advertising has the greatest impact on young people and people at risk of gambling harm, with one in five young women and one in seven young men starting betting for the first time after seeing or hearing an ad on TV. Among individuals who were at risk of gambling harm, 41 percent reported trying a new form of betting, and 40 percent bet on impulse, as a result of seeing or hearing betting advertisements. The report focused on Australian respondents.
“We know the harms that gambling causes at an individual family, and societal level, including impacts on finances, relationships, and health and wellbeing. This research shows that exposure to wagering advertising leads to riskier betting behaviour and escalates the likelihood of experiencing gambling harm.
A similar study by IIM Ronak this time focused on celebrity ads, found that the intent to gamble multiplies when a celebrity endorses a gambling platform.
“Celebrity endorsement, i.e., the use of attractive, trustworthy, and familiar celebrities for advertising online gambling applications, was found to have a statistically significant impact on the propensity to gamble among youth. Thus, it can be concluded that for every ten-unit increase in the endorser’s attractiveness, trustworthiness, or familiarity, the target customer’s propensity to gamble increases nearly sixfold,” the study said.
Emmanuel Chigozie, another gambler, said one of the things that gambler does is to give false hope which ensures that addicts continue to gamble away their money without quitting.
“For example, you might have lost a lot to the extent you want to give up but on the other hand your friend or someone somewhere might win some amount of money, and you will say “If they can do it, you can do it too”. You then continue to gamble,” Chigozie said.
He also suggests that many gamblers have also been driven into depression. This is particularly the case when a gambler experiences a near-win
“For example, you can make a selection of 20 to 30 games and your predictions might all go right except for 1 or 2 that went wrong. This can cause depression for some people because they were almost close to winning but they did not,” he said.
Some experts have suggested the banning of betting in Nigeria to save millions of Nigeria from the habit. Kalu Aja, a personal finance expert described it as “an addictive cancer”.
Some others, however, say that it is impossible to ban and stop people from gambling. Besides, no law in Nigeria criminalises the act itself, hence those who bet are within the armpit of the law. Nevertheless, the government can look towards mitigating the reasons why people gamble such as poverty.
“Gambling regulations in Nigeria need to be stronger. On the moral side, I am not for gambling; however, it is a scheme encouraged by governments across the world, and I think Nigeria needs better regulations,” said Akintonmide, a Nigerian on X. “Banning gambling is just not a move. If done, it will create an illegal market that does not protect gamblers. If the government, based on their research, sees a challenge with it, fixing the framework is the way forward. That comes with tax. This is called the Sin tax, a tax placed on harmful products like tobacco, cigarettes, and gambling.”