By Elvis Eromosele
Almost everyone has stories of someone who has made or lost tons of money from sports betting. A simple internet search will throw up tons of examples. There is the story of a popular Senior GP in the UK who was jailed three years for stealing £1.1m within a space of 3 weeks due to online gambling addiction. There is a block of four flats, off Ikotun Igando Road, that the rumours indicate was built from the proceed of sports betting success. The stories, whether of gain or pain, are endless.
Experts point to the increase in penetration of mobile telephony, widespread availability of broadband internet and growing global attraction of football leagues in Europe as the principal drivers of the ubiquity and adoption of sports betting across Nigeria. The engagement of popular influencers in sports betting marketing is also a factor here. Despite the deeply religious orientation of the citizens, sports betting has continued to gain ground across the length and breadth of the country.
Sports betting can be a fun and exciting form of entertainment, but it can also be addictive and potentially harmful if not approached with caution. In Nigeria, as in many other countries, sports betting has become increasingly popular in recent years, with an increasing number of online and offline betting companies offering a wide range of options for placing bets on various sports events.
The concern is that there are risks associated with sports betting, including the potential for financial losses, addiction, and other negative consequences. In Nigeria, the young and women are particularly vulnerable as the operators invade every nook and cranny without thinking about the social impact of their endeavours.
One of the main dangers of sports betting in Nigeria is the potential for financial losses. Betting in sports involves risking money on the outcome of a game or event, and it is not uncommon for people to lose more money than they can afford. Families have starved, children have had to stop schooling with many homes broken apart because of the financial losses occasioned by sports betting.
Another risk is the potential for addiction. Some people may become so engrossed in sports betting that they neglect their personal and professional responsibilities. It can lead to problems such as neglect of family and work and even criminal activity in some cases. Experts concede that gambling is addictive. Sports betting, in all its forms, is gambling. It follows that sports betting is addictive, contrary to what operators may try to portray.
In addition, the issue of underage gambling through sports betting deserves special attention due to the potential harm it can cause to minors, including addiction. Sadly, today minors can access sports betting facilities without any encumbrance.
It is clear that to truly minimize the risks associated with sports betting in Nigeria, it is important to adopt a holistic approach. Yes, individuals engaging in sports betting must take responsibility for themselves and their families and know to proceed with caution and set limits for themselves. People must set a budget for how much money they are willing to risk, only betting with money that they can afford to lose, and be willing to seek help if they feel that their betting habits are becoming a problem.
But the government must also take a more hands-on role in regulation, granting permits and protecting the citizens from unscrupulous sports betting operators.
Operators, naturally, are quick to point out that sports betting creates jobs. They point to the myriad of betting shop outlets across the country in addition to in-house staff members to prove that they are a viable economic activity. In addition, they pay taxes. Their operations in many instances however may leave much to be desired.
At over $2 billion, the nation’s sports betting industry is today a behemoth. It must however be tamed if the country wishes to harness the benefits. Again, the onus is on the government and the regulator to rein it in before it wrecks the future of the youth.
Consider this, while sports betting is getting more and more popular, the impact on sports development is still largely negligible. We must ask questions. Over the last decade of tremendous growth, how many new sports grounds have been built with funds from sports betting?
Can the sports betting industry point to athletes that its sponsorship has been supported and promoted? How much is paid in taxes and levies and which agency?
What it is doing to curtail the increase in underage participation in sports betting?
These are the issues. If sports betting exists only to make money for a few, fuel the gambling addiction and drive-up underage participation, it is not a business but a parasite. They, therefore, need to be tamed, their activities curtail and their modus operandi scrutinized more closely.
The sports betting industry must demonstrate a clear commitment to sports development. It equally has to invest in measures to curb underage participation. In addition, it must pay commensurate taxes.
The National Lottery Regulatory Commission, the regulator of the sector, urgently needs to rise to its responsibility to protect society. At the very least, the commission must insist that operators implement strict age verification processes to ensure minors cannot access sports betting sites or shops and push to educate the public, especially minors, on the dangers of underage gambling through school programs, media campaigns and community outreach.
The National Assembly may also need to look at strengthening the laws prohibiting minors from engaging in gambling activities and include a provision to prosecute those who violate these laws. Security agencies must be willing to enforce the law to its full extent.
Parents equally have a responsibility to care for their wards. They need to closely monitor their children’s online activities and have open communication with them about the risks of underage gambling.
Overall, it is important to approach sports betting responsibly and to be aware of the potential pitfalls, risks and dangers and opportunities. If the country takes the necessary precautions, sports betting can make tremendous contributions to the nation’s economy. And it may be possible that individuals can enjoy sports betting as a form of entertainment without exposing themselves to unnecessary risk. This is the future.
Eromosele, a Corporate Communication professional and public affairs analyst, lives in Lagos.