Like most white-collar workers, Andrew Ejike gets dressed and leaves his house in Enugu city in the morning. A computer laptop bag, which he carries like a suitcase, suggests that he is going to the office. When he returns home in the evening, his neighbours often ask: “How was work today?” and he replies by saying, “Work was fine”.
Interestingly, Ejike does not have a job, and certainly does not have a formal employment. He is unemployed.
But he has ‘created’ a ‘job’ for himself. He is, more or less, a ‘professional’ punter. Sports betting is what Ejike does and when he leaves for ‘work’ every morning on working days, the ‘office’ he goes is actually any sports bar around town.
On getting to the bar, Ejike would set up his laptop, connect to the Internet with a mobile device, open the website of any of the mobile sports betting companies and start working on forecasts, or permutations, in order to come up with the bets he would place for the day.
A bachelor’s degree holder in Estate Management from a federal university, Ejike has been sustaining himself and his young family with proceeds from sports betting after failing to secure a stable employment since he graduated more than 10 years ago.
In a chat with our correspondent, Ejike explained that he lost two previous jobs after the firms he was working for closed down.
“The pay from the jobs was not much anyway but I believe there is dignity in labour. I was also hoping that along the line I would get something bigger and more stable. But I couldn’t even hold on to those jobs because the firms closed down and nothing better came along,” he said.
According to Ejike, he has always been passionate about sports, particularly football, and, even while he was working, had been placing bets regularly on sports betting sites, recording ‘considerable’ success in the process. It was after failing to secure another job that Ejike decided to ‘repackage’ himself by regarding his sports betting habit as a ‘full-time’ employment.
“I am not proud of my joblessness, I like to get dressed and go out in the morning to do something meaningful, and then come back home at the end of the day. But unfortunately for me, I could not do that because I don’t have a formal job. It is true that sports betting is not really a job but it has been my sole source of income for a while now, I don’t win all the time but on the average, I do win quite often, somehow it happens that I am making a living from it so, for me, in the absence of a full-time employment, betting could as well be my job at the moment,” Ejike explained.
Checks by our correspondent revealed that Ejike is just one of many unemployed Nigerian youths who have embraced sports betting as not just a hobby, but as a means of livelihood. To this class of Nigerians, the activity, which mostly requires a considerable dose of luck for one to prosper in it, is an avenue to make ends meet.
For Sunday James, betting was nothing more than a hobby when he was working for a new generation commercial bank. But, as he revealed in a chat with Saturday PUNCH, he has come to rely on the activity for income ever since he was laid off along with some others when the bank downsized. With another job nowhere in sight, James saw betting as a pathway to financial independence.
“I have not had any job for about three years now, as someone who once worked in a bank where the salary was good, it has not been easy. But sports betting has been providing some much needed relief along the line. The occasional winnings have been very helpful,” he told our correspondent.
Ernest Chidi has not been able to secure any job since he graduated about five years ago. A ‘prim and proper’ youth who distanced himself from all forms of social vices, including gambling, while in school, grim economic realities have forced Chidi to embrace sports betting.
“I don’t know what I would have done without (sports) betting, it is as if my life now depends on it,” the young man said.
Chidi further revealed that, hitherto, he had no significant interest in football and other sporting activities, until he stumbled on sports betting. As he narrated his story during a football match between two popular European clubs at a viewing centre, our correspondent observed that Chidi’s attention was not really in the game per se – he was obviously more concerned about the bet he had placed on the match. He kept checking a website where he could get updates on live matches on his mobile phone in a bid to follow up on the scores in other matches he had placed bets on.
Those who have known Osaretin Jacob over the last three or four years would admit that you would hardly see him without noticing very long printouts of sports betting tickets dangling from his hands. Jacob, an occasional tricycle and motorcycle rider, hoped that he would eventually win big through sports betting. During an encounter with our correspondent, when he was observed comparing his tickets with some of his friends’, who were also brandishing their own betting slips, Jacob expressed a strong belief in his chances of winning millions of naira, despite staking little amounts of money.
“I don’t have much cash so I usually bet on a large number of matches so that I could win a more substantial sum if my predictions are right,” he explained to our correspondent.
Further interactions with Jacob showed that he had placed all his hopes of ‘making it big’ in life on betting. He seems to have information about any case of ‘big wins’ recorded in sports betting, and is desperate to, one day, make a big win himself.
“I have already planned how I will enjoy life when I make it big. I pray that God will answer my prayer. It is just a matter of time,” he added.
Rising unemployment rate
Amid a soaring unemployment rate, it is not surprising that an activity like sports betting, which comes with promises of instant financial gains, has been taken up by some Nigerians, particularly the youth, who are the ones mostly affected by the lack of jobs in the society.
According to Trading Economics, a website which provides historical data, forecasts and news on more than 300,000 economic indicators from nearly 200 countries, Nigeria’s unemployment rate has been on the rise.
“Unemployment Rate in Nigeria increased to 23.10 per cent in the third quarter of 2018 from 22.70 per cent in the second quarter of 2018. Unemployment rate in Nigeria averaged 12.31 per cent from 2006 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 23.10 per cent in the third quarter of 2018,” the website, which was last updated on March of 2019, said.
The website added that youth unemployment rate in Nigeria averaged 23.63 per cent from 2014 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 38 per cent in the second quarter of 2018.
The classification of Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, when considered alongside the unemployment rate, suggests that sports betting could be a means of escaping the endemic poverty in the country. Interactions with avid punters indicate that, at a subconscious level, betting gives those who indulge in it a considerable degree of hope, akin to the expectation of an imminent good fortune.
“When you place a bet you are hopeful – at that moment you have something to look forward to. Just like in law where it is said that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty, a punter is more or less a winner, at least until the result of the bet comes out,” Ejike noted.
For those who went into sports betting just to counter unemployment, this hope means a lot. It is also the case for those who have jobs but engage in betting on the side. There is a feeling that good news is on the way after the bet has been placed.
However, the downside to this hope is the fact that, on average, most punters end up losing but would continue coming back to place more bets, all in the expectation that the next bet would win them something. As Ejike and the other punters admitted in separate encounters with our correspondent, “you cannot win all the time.” There are people who have placed bets regularly for a long period of time without recording any wins. And there are also some who get lucky – some people have been known to win the very first time they attempted sports betting.
But, in between the two scenarios are people like Ejike and thousands of others who opt not to rely on chance – this category of punters would spend hours browsing betting websites, ‘working’ on predicting likely scores, all in a bid to maximise their chances of winning. Along the line, some become ‘so good’ at it that they sell potential winning numbers to other prospective punters.
For instance, James disclosed that, besides the winnings he records from betting, he also makes money from selling ‘winning numbers’.
However, such winning numbers are not always reliable, and are known to fail most of the time.
“We are just gambling on the outcome of football matches and other sporting activities so you can’t expect to get it right all the time,” he added.
Indeed, sports betting is another form of gambling, just like pool. Sports betting is, more or less, a modernised form of pool, where online platforms replaced the pool booklets. The deployment of technology, particularly mobile phone applications by sports betting firms, made the activity more accessible for the younger generation. Although most betting activities are done at the shops and outlets of the betting companies, online permutations and betting account for a great degree of betting activities.
Besides football, which, understandably, records the most activities in Nigeria due to the overwhelming interest in the game, other sports like basketball, handball, baseball, golf and tennis are also subjected to betting.
Due to the huge volume of activities in the business, and the large population involved, new sports betting companies emerge almost on a daily basis. And in a bid to gain a strong foothold in the burgeoning market, most of the new entrants use popular former Nigerian international football stars to market themselves. Household football legends like Kanu Nwankwo, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Victor Ikpeba and others feature on television advertisements for sports betting companies.
Wide range of choices for punters
The firms also introduce different betting plans or packages for their customers like live betting, which allows customers to bet on changing odds in a live football match, up to the 90th minute.
Some sports betting firms also give their customers the option of ‘cashing out’ – taking a fraction of the payoff while they are still winning, before the end of the game. Punters, who are not confident that the score would not change by the time the match ends, most times cash out to avoid losing everything should the outcome become different.
These innovations, and the use of technology, in the form of mobile phones, has gone a long way to draw youths, who also appear to be crazy about football, to embrace sports betting.
One of the major sports betting firms in Nigeria has ‘Reward for passion’ as its slogan.
This slogan is hinged on the argument that sports betting offers football fans a platform, or opportunity, to benefit financially from their passion for the game.
Nowadays, majority of youths who converge at viewing centers to watch football on match days would have placed bets on the particular games that are being played. They follow other matches they placed bets on, but which are not being televised, on relevant websites on their mobile phones. In such situations, the fans’ support for any of the competing teams tends to be determined by the bet they had placed on the particular football match. Some fans would usually bet in favour of the teams they support.
But findings by our correspondent revealed that ‘professional punters’, are not guided by sentiments when placing their bets.
Ejike is a die-hard Arsenal fan, but he admitted that on several occasions, he had placed bets that Arsenal would lose.
“I am not sentimental when it comes to betting. I know I love Arsenal, I am a Gunner (nickname for Arsenal fans) for life, but when I am betting on any football match, I see myself as an investor,” he said.
Chidi corroborated Ejike’s account. “I don’t support any football club; in fact, I don’t even consider myself as a football lover. My interest in the game is just to make money from betting,” Chidi said, adding that he never allowed sentiments to get in the way when placing his bets.
Putting hope in uncertainties
Sports betting companies whet their customers appetites by promising instant payments on jumbo wins, and are known to hype up cases of ‘big wins’ in a bid to boost interest in the activity. But observations by our correspondent showed that, while some punters record a degree of success in betting, a larger number of those who indulge in the activity are not successful.
“My rent will be due in two months’ time but the money is already available. I have been saving from my winnings from sports betting and I will not have any problem with the landlord this time round,” Chidi told our correspondent, adding that his wife had been worried about the looming expiration of the rent.
“She does not know I am into sports betting. I go out every day and she believes I am looking for work while also hustling by trying my hand at anything that comes my way. She has a small shop but she knows I bring most of the money that is used to run the house. What she doesn’t know is that most of the money I provide comes from sports betting,” he added.
Ejike shared a similar story. “I bought a car from my winnings in sports betting and the vehicle is being used as a taxi at the moment. My personal car, which I bought when I used to work, is getting old and I am working towards replacing it. I also intend to get a car for my wife,” he told our correspondent.
Ejike’s plans of changing his old car, and getting a car for his wife, are all dependent on sports betting.
Asked whether making such plans on something as uncertain as sports betting does not appear like a pipe dream, Ejike laughed, and said, “Of course I know I will win the money as long as I keep playing. It is just a matter of time, but it will be very soon.”
He added that, sometimes, he gets ‘sure winning numbers’, or ‘fixed matches’ which, according to him, have a great probability of succeeding.
In fact, ‘desperation’ on the part of punters, who believe that success in sports betting goes beyond luck, has resulted in the emergence of another form of business – companies or individuals, mostly online-based, who provide information on ‘fixed matches’ to prospective betters, for a fee.
These ‘fixed match merchants’ advertise their services on the comments section of major newspaper websites, urging prospective betters to get in touch with them for information that would enable them to make the much sought-after big wins.
As investigation revealed, the information provided by such people most times, is however, not correct. The matches that they claim are fixed end up with different outcomes entirely, and it is known that some of those who claim to have information on fixed matches are only out to rip off unsuspecting punters.
For example, Chidi told our correspondent that, most times, numbers provided by ‘professionals’ and other persons who claim to have information concerning fixed matches, turn out to be incorrect.
“It is true that there are people who are known to be more successful in betting than others. It is believed that they have insider information on fixed matches, or that they have an uncanny ability to analyse and work out the results of yet to be played, scheduled football matches. But, most of the time, when you get betting tips from such people and use those numbers with high confidence, you still end up losing,” he explained.
Chidi further revealed that, once, he placed bets with a substantial amount of money after somebody, who was widely believed to have information on fixed matches, gave him tips on what to bet on.
“I lost a huge sum of money, it was quite painful because that was the entire amount I had on me at that time,” he said, adding that he also learnt a lesson from the experience.
“Since then, I have learnt to trust my own instinct and judgment while placing bets, rather than relying on information from a supposed master,” he noted.
Chidi also noted that, despite the high level of enthusiasm among youths who engage in betting, the number of losers far outweighs the number of those who make winnings.
“Some people have been placing bets for years without winning anything, while some people have even won on the very first attempt. You can also win today and not win again for a very long time. There are also people who win regularly. Betting is so random, you can’t really be certain of how it will go,” he added.
Ejike disclosed that, on average, he makes ‘between N65,000 and N120,000 monthly’ from betting. But he was quick to point out that his earnings from the activity fluctuates and is not stable. According to him, there was an instance when he won as much as N850,000 on a single bet, and, equally, there has been numerous occasions when he failed to win, or won ‘as little as N1,500 or so’.
“It is quite random – you can’t really be so definite about what comes in from betting,” he said.
He added that he had adopted what he described as a ‘slow and steady’ approach in his betting activities, whereby he does not give in to the temptation of staking very large sums in the quest for huge wins, so as as to avoid ‘hitting rock bottom’ in the event of a loss.
However, Ejike also admitted that there are others who regularly win much larger amounts from betting.
“There are so many people I know who stake larger sums and as a result when they win, they win big, very big,” he said, adding that, in most cases, such individuals have other flourishing sources of income and see sports betting as a means of making additional money.
“For somebody like me, the risk there is if you don’t have more resources to fall back on and stake big sums like such people, when you lose, you won’t have anything to fall back on and it will be disastrous,” Ejike said.
He also explained that he knows of several people who were ‘literally’ ruined by sports betting, having gone broke after losing big sums.
More losers than gainers
A Digital Skills Observatory report, which looked at betting in some African countries, noted that “55 per cent of participants believe they win most of the time, but data shows that more than 50 per cent have spent more on gambling than they have gained.”
Be that as it may, the sports betting industry in Nigeria continues to grow by the day as the large number of unemployed youths see it as an avenue to escape poverty. But it is not only the unemployed that indulge in sports betting, some comfortably employed people also engage in the venture – more or less in a bid to get additional income.
The 2014-2018 Gambling Outlook by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which examined the extent of the gambling industry in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, reported that gambling in the three countries could be worth about $37bn.